Modern Nazareth is dominated by the massive basilica of the Annunciation; visible from anywhere in the town; it serves as a perfect orientation point.
The early Byzantine pilgrims do not seem to have paid much attention to Nazareth. In 384 Egeria was shown ‘a big and very splendid cave’ in which Mary had lived. Then silence descends for almost two centuries, a period in which many legends were born. At the end of the C7 Arculf saw two ‘very large churches’, one in the centre of the city on the site of the house where Jesus was brought up, the other on the site of the house where Mary received the angel Gabriel.
One of Tancred’s first concerns on becoming Prince of Galilee in 1099 was to erect a church above the cave in the centre of the city. Dedicated to the Annunciation, it was visited by the Russian pilgrim Daniel in 1106; every corner of the cave is related to something in the daily life of the Holy Family.
In 1620 the Franciscans were permitted to buy back the ruins of the church of the Annunciation, and thereafter managed to maintain a Christian presence despite incredible difficulties. With the approbation of another Muslim rebel, Daher el-Omar, they built a church in 1730 which was demolished in 1955 to make room for the new basilica. The building has been designed to enclose and protect the discoveries made in the exhaustive archeological excavations. These can be seen in the lower church.
The present basilica (dedicated in 1968) preserves the outline of the C12 Crusader church, minus one bay at the west end. The main entrance facing Casa Nova Street gives access to the lower church. On the left, the north wall of the Crusader church is visible. The north-east corner with its spiral staircase is completely Crusader, as are significant portions of the three apses.
Source: The Holy Land by Jerome Murphy- O’Connor