Following in the footsteps of Mary, the Mother of God, and visiting the sites of key events in her life, the Marian trail promises to be a journey of self-realisation and discovery, especially for those who undertake it in a spirit of pilgrimage, as do many of those who travel to the Holy Land.
Now a busy city, Nazareth was the farming village where Jesus grew up with his family, and is the site of the ancient Fountain of the Virgin where his mother would have fetched water for the house. Not only that, though, it was also in Nazareth that the Archangel Gabriel appeared to Mary to tell her that she had been chosen to be the mother of the Son of God. Tradition tells that this took place in a grotto which is now part of the Basilica of the Annunciation. Nearby, at the Mary of Nazareth International Centre, a display of a recently discovered first-century family home helps us to understand more of how the Holy Family would have lived.
Elsewhere in Galilee
According to some traditions, the once prosperous city of Sepphoris, also known as Tzippori, today a national archaeological park, was the birthplace of Mary, now marked by a Franciscan monastery. Also in Galilee is the town of Cana, scene of the first miracle, where Jesus turned water into wine when his mother told him that the wine had run out at the wedding feast. After the feast, the Gospel of John tells us that Jesus and his mother, his brothers and his disciples, went down to Capernaum, where Jesus was to live during much of his ministry, and the modern pilgrim can follow the trail to this town on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee.
Haifa and Mount Carmel
The Stella Maris monastery dedicated to Our Lady, Star of the Sea, is another important site on the Marian Trail because of its proximity to the Cave of Elijah, identified since Byzantine times as a place where the Holy Family rested on their return from Egypt.
A centre for Jewish religious life, Jerusalem would have figured in the life of all pious families, and the city is home to a number of important sites, including the Western Wall and the Temple Mount. The Church of St Anne, dating from the twelfth century, incorporates another of the sites claimed to be Mary's birthplace, while outside the walls of the old city, at the foot of the Mount of Olives, is the Tomb of the Virgin.
The Via Dolorosa can be followed from the arch of Ecce Homo in the city's Muslim Quarter to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Christian Quarter. Mary was, of course, present to witness her son's ordeal, and several of the stations along the way are directly or indirectly connected with her.
Christian tradition places the birthplace of John the Baptist at Ein Karem, and the Bible tells how Mary visited his mother, her cousin Elizabeth, while they were both pregnant. The village commemorates the visit in a number of locations, including Mary's Spring, where tradition holds that the two women met and talked.
One of the highlights of any visit to the Holy Land must be a visit to the Basilica of the Nativity, which enshrines the cave where Jesus is said to have been born. Also in Bethlehem is the Milk Grotto, where the Holy Family are said to have taken refuge before the flight to Egypt. (Note that special arrangements may be needed in order to visit the sites in Bethlehem.)
The Catholic Shrine at Deir Rafat Monastery, established in 1930, is dedicated to the Virgin Mary, in her role as Queen of Nations and Protector of the Holy Land.
Israeli Tourist Board