The new shrine
Already at the end of the First World War the Custodia proposed, to Pope Pius IX, the idea of building a more worthy shrine, in the place of the Annunciation. Many years later, in 1954 the propitious opportunity arose: the first centenary of the proclamation of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. To celebrate this anniversary, padre Custode Giacinto Faccio decided to start the work, which involved demolishing all the 18th century structures and conducting archaeological investigations of the ancient ruins.
The renowned architect Antonio Barluzzi, who had designed major shrines for the Custodia, such as the Getsemani, Tabor and Dominus Flevit, was the first to be assigned for the design of the new shrine. An article with drawings of his designs was published in the magazine of Holy Land in 1954. The design envisaged a great church with central layout, covered by a cupola and flanked by four bell towers; it was designed, as was the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, with the worshipped grotto at the centre.
The rediscovery of the ancient village and the archaeological remains of the various buildings of worship that followed over the centuries, revealed an age-old and uninterrupted Marian veneration, and thus became an indispensable element to be considered in the design of the new shrine. Along these lines was also the Holy See, from which came the invitation to best conserve the remains of the ancient village and various churches. This recommendation led the Custodia to promote a new project, this time assigned to the Italian architect Giovanni Muzio, on proposal by Custodian Father Alfredo Polidori, who valued the experience of Muzio in the design of religious buildings, in particular for the Friars Minor, for whom he had designed the church of Santa Maria Mediatrice in Rome, with the annexed Curia Generalizia.
The needs to be met were manifold: to build a new Marian shrine that could welcome millions of pilgrims from all over the world; to conserve as far as possible the crusade, Byzantine and pre-Byzantine remains in view, as testimony to the long-standing worship of the location; to overcome difficult topographical conditions due to the steep slopes of the hills; to create a practical location, easily managed even by a limited number of religious figures and which could also be host to the parish community activities of Nazareth.
The architect became so impassioned with the project that he wavered his fee.
He designed a church founded on the crusade walls and divided onto two levels, so that on the lower level followers could stay and pray in front of the grotto of the Incarnation of the Word, in a simple but capacious area, while a large upper church would be used to celebrate the glorification of Mary over the centuries and the continents. For this reason, he chose to decorate the walls depicting the various Marian events that have occurred across the various regions of the world. Muzio also thought of a large central oeil-de-boeuf window open above the Grotto, so that the two churches could merge into one, crowned by a polygonal cupola in the shape of an inverted crown of flowers terminating in a skylight, with the function of indicating, like a star, the Holy Place from afar.
With the approval of the Holy See, the works started and proceeded uninterrupted. The Custodia met the onerous costs of the work also thanks to the generous response of many donors who, through the pages of the magazine “The Holy Land” and the precious help of the Commissaries of the Holy Land, were kept up-to-date with the phases of construction.
Works to prepare the site started in 1959 and the agreement with the contracted firm was signed in September of 1960. In 1964, Pope Paul VI, during his pilgrimage to the Holy Land, visited the new Shrine under construction.
On Sunday 23 March 1969, after eight years of work, the shrine was finally consecrated in the presence of Cardinal Gabriele Maria Garrone - at the time Prefect of the sacred Congregation for Catholic Education -, of the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem S.B. Monsignor Gori, of the Minister General of the Order of Franciscan Friars Father Costantino Koser, of the Custos of the Holy Land Very Reverend P. Alfonso Calabrese. The custos who alternated during the planning and production of the work were P. Giacinto Faccio, P. Angelo Lazzeri, P. Alfredo Polidori, P. Lino Cappiello and P. Alfonso Calabrese.