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Christianity 101



From Haifa, we head to Nazareth, but not before learning that it’s Eid, a Muslim festival, equivalent in importance to Christmas. So we’re leaving during Shabbat, arriving in a predominantly Muslim city during the middle of a huge holiday, and we’re being driven by a Christian bus driver. Dizzying. A fellow traveller said to me, “The more confused you are the more you are beginning to understand Israel.” Ain’t that the truth!

Due to the festivities, we’re dropped the other side of town in Nazareth and have about a 30-minute walk to the guesthouse, through parades, fireworks and screaming children. We’re glad to arrive, but it’s odd to be in a place with so much Christian significance during a Muslim holy day.
The following day we set out to see Nazareth’s sights, which doesn’t take long seeing as they all fall within steps of each other. I’ve never been a hugely religious person, but I’m interested to visit the biblical places I’ve heard stories about my entire life. The first stop is the unassuming Synagogue Church- apparently the place where Jesus attended church and later preached. We’re greeted by the church innkeeper who gives us a brief overview of the church, yelling over his shoulder to us, while ringing the morning bells. Interestingly enough, he tells us Nazareth is still 40% Christian.
From here, we head to the Church of the Annunciation, where according to The Bible, Mary announced she would give birth to Jesus. We listened in on a Sunday morning mass in Italian and toured the grounds. Many countries have donated mosaics of their interpretations of The Virgin Mary and Jesus – the artwork was beautiful.
We did a quick tour of St. Joseph’s, where Joseph’s carpentry shop was believed to be, and then went to Mensa Church. ‘Mensa’ means ‘table’ in Latin, and a huge rock sits in the middle of the Church. This is believed to be where Jesus ate with his disciples after rising from the dead.
The last stop was at a Greek Orthodox church, where we managed to sneak in during a christening. We had just a few minutes to take in the ornate paintings and decor.
It was time for lunch and my first opportunity to try falafel- and definitely not my last. This was followed by a trip to a sweet shop that came highly recommended. As we were surveying all the different varieties of baklava and deciding what to sample, I couldn’t help but notice a man in the back of the shop, washing his feet in the sink. I was a bit disturbed by this, and didn’t put two and two together, until he laid down his prayer mat and knelt to say his afternoon prayers. Then, it all made sense, but it was still slightly disturbing.
That afternoon, after sampling the baklava, we hiked up to the Salesian Church on top of the hill. The church was closed but we had some great views of sprawling Nazareth below. We picked up a bottle of Israeli red wine on the way back to the guesthouse, and after the first sip decided they should stick to making baklava!
That night we made plans to head South and West… into the Palestinian Territories
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