The first Franciscan church of the eighteenth century
In eighteenth-century Nazareth, Christian communities lived in a time of greater tranquillity. Proof of this is the fact that in 1730 the Pasha granted the construction of a new church on the Sacred Grotto, to be implemented in six months, the time required for his pilgrimage to Mecca. On 15 October 1730, Custos Pietro da Luri consecrated the new church, which finally was able to accommodate the local Latin community now growing. On the opening day, in fact, more than a hundred Catholics received Confirmation.
The growth of the community would push the Custody, in 1877, to extend the length of the church, thanks to the support of Father Cipriano of Treviso, Commissioner of the Holy Land. The building lay in a north-south direction, with the Grotto of the Annunciation incorporated in the crypt under the chancel and preceded by a short hall. In the contemporary chronicles of the Holy Land, the church was described as the most beautiful owned by the Latin Church in the East. In 1742, Father Elzear Horn made a number of drawings clearly showing the layout of the Grotto under the chancel, reachable by a staircase. In the anteroom to the Grotto, there was the Chapel of the Angel, with groined vault ceilings supported by the four granite columns still visible today. In the vestibule, on the left, there was an altar dedicated to San Gabriele. A wooden altar was located in back of the cave, richly decorated with a painting of the Annunciation and, under the altar, the exact point of the Incarnation, shown by the following silver writing, “Verbo Caro hic factum est.” All eighteenth-century depictions show the two broken and unbroken columns, which for centuries have indicated the place where the Angel Gabriel and the Virgin stood during the Annunciation. The place was connected by an ancient tunnel to the cave called "Cucina di Maria" and the Franciscan monastery.
The upper church had an altar on either side, one dedicated to San Francesco and the other to Sant’Antonio da Padua, and two side altars in the apse, dedicated to San Giuseppe, husband of Mary and to Sant’Anna, mother of the Virgin.