The Crusader cathedral: the excavations
The surveys and excavations that unearthed the remains of the Crusader church begun by chance in 1892, when brother Benedict Vlaminck marked out the plan of the medieval remains that were still visible. On arriving in Nazareth in 1889, and curious about the discoveries made by Vlaminck, father Prospero Viaud took on the responsibility of excavating and documenting the ancient remains visible inside the Franciscan convent and the church of the Annunciation. Its publication in 1910 was the first methodical collection of the remains of the Ceusader and Byzantine church. The publication was enhanced by the final plan of the excavations and drawings of the various sections. The study highlighted the overall wealth of the basilica, including that of its furnishings, as emphasised by the discovery of five capitals illustrating the story of the apostles skilfully carved by Crusader artists, placed in a grotto for protection and lost there for centuries.
When the moment to construct the Franciscan church arrived, the Custos Giacinto Faccio appointed father Bellarmino Bagatti to direct the archaeological excavations in the area free of demolitions carried out to rebuild the sanctuary. The excavations took place in 1955 and were followed up with occasional surveys until 1966. The information relating to the Crusader church is collected in father Bagatti’s second volume dedicated to the excavations: the description of the finds and the cataloguing of all the most important elements is accompanied with drawings by father Eugenio Alliata who reorganised the architectural elements discovered, studying their possible location in the building.
The considerable richness of the sculptural decorations and the uniqueness of the perfectly preserved capitals, were the subject of lots of research that brought to light various theories on the origin of the artists and French sculptors employed at the Crusader work area: for example, Enlart, Deschamps and Borg. Various hypotheses have been suggested for the use of the capitals, perhaps never installed, discovered in a grotto in 1909 and on the iconographic plan that they should have represented, which emerged that of Viaud, Bagatti, Jacoby and Folda.