Grotto of the Annunciation
As in the other sanctuaries appearing in the Christian memorials of the Holy Land, the Grotto of Nazareth also bears reference to the "HIC" exact location in which the gospel events occurred: here the Virgin Mary heard the words of the Annunciation; here she pronounced the fiat; here the Word became flesh; here purity and virginity fused with maternity while remaining intact.
The Grotto of the Annunciation opens like a small sanctuary, the place of the Annunciation of angel Gabriel and Mary. To reach the level of the Holy Grotto and of the small grotto beside it, you descend the seven steps of the eastern stairway and walk along the chapel of the Angel towards the stairs for ascending again; these two staircases correspond to the entrances built in the Crusader era. They would have been similar to the ones that still today lead inside the grotto of Bethlehem.
The venerated Grotto underwent many changes over the various eras in order to ensure the site could be visited and religion could be practiced there. Today its appearance is a small rocky chapel, made partly of natural rock and partly of stonework.
You can already see from the outside two elements of crucial importance which testify that the place was part of the ancient village. These are two large grain containers dating back to the time of Jesus and the immediately subsequent period. These containers with circular holes of which a few traces remain, are located on the right and left of the Grotto’s entrance door, beyond the wrought iron balustrade. Moreover, above the Grotto and along the sides, the Crusader pillars that supported the arches of the large church can be seen.
On entering the Grotto, you can make out the remains of the natural rock that formed the room, as well as sections of stonework partly rebuilt in shiny white stone. The ceiling, that underwent a few changes in the past to make the Grotto seem like a chapel, is slightly rounded. In the Crusader era, the Grotto was blocked off and recarved on the outside to allow a new holy building to be inserted; part of the vault, probably collapsed, was also replaced with Crusader stonework. Recently, holes have been made to ensure a good ventilation of the room since it undergoes significant deterioration due to the high level of humidity inside.
Three columns were inserted to support the pillar that the Crusaders built above the Grotto: two can be seen on the left, outside the Grotto’s new wall and one on the inside, broken and suspended. The largest column of the two outer ones was referred to by the pilgrims as "the Angel column"; the broken one inside was called "the Virgin’s column", because it was believed to indicate exactly the place where Mary was sitting during the Annunciation. The column that sticks up from the roof of the Grotto was split open in the Ottoman period, because it was thought to contain a treasure.
The main altar bears the inscription «Verbum caro hic factum est», "HERE" the word became flesh, part of the Franciscan sanctuary of 1730.
Entering on the right, there is a small apse created for one of the five altars that were in the Grotto and in the Chapel of the Angel until halfway through the last century. The apse was plastered several times and the pilgrims made various inscriptions there that have unfortunately been lost due to the strong deterioration of the walls.
The room to the north, further inside the Grotto, is a semicircular shape and has preserved an altar dedicated to Saint Joseph over the centuries. It now contains a column holding the tabernacle.
Behind the altar of the Annunciation, a grotto better known as "Mary’s kitchen" can be reached via a stairway built into the wall.