Grotto, bath and home of Saint Joseph
The underground areas are assigned as domestic areas, perhaps later converted to places of worship.
On descent, it can be seen that the modern construction stands on top of the walls from the crusade era.
The remains below comprise a series of elements attributable to human activities: a cistern, a series of silos stacked on one another, a bath and stairs, which via a small alleyway lead to an underground grotto. On careful examination, it can be seen that the alleyway, grotto and cistern are the result of later adaptations. Some academics, including the priests Bagatti and Testa, hypothesis that these changes were made to adapt the location to baptism ceremonies.
From the findings of marble among the rubble, it is supposed that the grotto was entirely covered in marble.
The large bath, visible in the crypt, showed the typical features corresponding to the ancient basins used for baptism ceremonies.
It is dug into the rock, measuring two by two metres, and shows walls evened out with masonry. The bottom of the bath is reached by seven steps leading down. The steps and floor are tiled in black and white mosaics with geometrical figures, while the walls are finished in thick plaster. A small channel is dug into the floor alongside the steps.
Examinations of the bath composition have led various academics to believe that this is a ceremonial bath for the baptism of the catechumens. According to P. Testa there are many elements that confirm this theory, including the seven steps of the stairway, a number that recalls the Jewish-Christian doctrine of the “descensus et ascensus” of Christ to the heavens (Rm 6,3-4; Col 2,12) and the gifts of the Holy Spirit. A symbolic function was also attributed to the canal following the wall of the stairway. It is identified with the river Jordan crossed by Israel to enter the promised land, and symbolically by those baptising to enter the new promised land, which is the life in Christ.
On the basis of such interpretations, the mosaic decoration of the bath floor was also examined, featuring six black squares on a white background, which could represent the six angels first created (protoctistai) and which in the Jewish-Christian view assisted Christ the Redeemer in all his actions. Lastly, a basalt slab inserted in the mosaic, may symbolise Christ, the cornerstone on which those to be baptised, together with the Church, base their new life.
Obviously there are those who fully dissent from a holy interpretation of the bath concerned. This is the case, for example, of the academic Joan E. Taylor, who in her essay entitled Christians and the Holy Places: the Myth of Jewish-Christian Origins, edited in Oxford in 1993, maintains that the bath comes from the remains of a press from the Byzantine era, as would confirm the archaeological context of the building.
Aside from the various interpretations, a consecutive series of buildings can be seen here, in an area that initially was part of a village, to then be transformed for different purposes, to finally become a place of worship, to finally be converted into the current modern shrine dedicated to Saint Joseph.