A Biblical Tour: Following in the Footsteps of Jesus

Each year millions of Christians make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land to follow in the footsteps of Jesus. They visit the places where biblical events unfolded and ancient cities with biblical names, such as Bethlehem, Nazareth, and Jerusalem. On guided tours to Nazareth, or visits to the Mount of Olives, they retrace Christ’s footsteps following his life story as told in the New Testament. It is a unique and spiritually enriching experience not to be missed.

Bethlehem: The Birthplace of Jesus

Joseph and Mary, pregnant with their child,  traveled from their home in Nazareth to Bethlehem in response to a Roman census that required all Jews to register in their ancestral hometown. On arrival, they found no room available in the city, so they had no choice but to spend the night in a manger, which was a grotto or cave where the owner kept his livestock.

Church of the Nativity

The Church of the Nativity was built around that famous manger where Joseph and Mary stayed and where Christ was born. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, built in the 4th century, and it is perhaps the oldest continuously operating Christian church. The church itself is magnificent, but the highlight of a visit here is the Grotto of the Nativity which marks the site of Christ’s birth. Pilgrims flock to this sacred place, arriving at Manger Square.

Manger Square

Manger Square, adjacent to the Church of the Nativity, and Church of St. Catherine, is a bustling plaza where visitors can absorb the vibrant atmosphere. It is the heart of Christian activity in Bethlehem, and it is where Midnight Mass is celebrated on Christmas Eve each year.  While in Bethlehem you might like to visit the Milk Grotto Chapel, traditionally associated with the Holy Family’s resting spot where Mary nursed baby Jesus.

Nazareth: Jesus’s Hometown

The Holy Family eventually returned to their hometown, and Jesus spent the first few years of his life as a young boy growing up here in Nazareth. Today it is a busy city known as the “Arab Capital of Israel” as about 70% of residents are Christian and Muslim Arabs. Perhaps the best time to visit Nazareth is during the Christmas season when the city holds an impressive Christmas market.

Church of the Annunciation

Nazareth’s biggest attraction is the gorgeous Church of the Annunciation, built over the site where the angel Gabriel is said to have appeared to Mary, announcing the miraculous conception. The church’s architecture and artwork depict scenes from the life of Christ. Its grand façade is adorned by intricate mosaics and a soaring dome that reflects both modern and Byzantine influences. The interior is a masterpiece of artistry, featuring vibrant frescoes and sculptures that narrate the biblical story of the Annunciation. This is a Catholic church but Nazareth is also home to the Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation.

St. Joseph’s Church

During the time that the Holy Family lived in Nazareth their home, like most homes at the time, was a stone dwelling. The Holy Family’s home was in the same stone grotto as Joseph’s carpentry. Today that first-century dwelling is beneath St. Joseph’s Church. Visitors to this small church can descend a flight of stairs into the ancient dwelling. Here, pilgrims often reflect on the role of Joseph in Jesus’s life and the importance of humility and obedience. The church was built over an earlier Crusader church and the ancient grottoes.

Sea of Galilee: Miracles and Teachings

Jesus grew up and left home. One of the next most significant points in his life was being baptized by John the Baptist in the Jordan River. He then spent 40 days and nights in the wilderness, on Mount Temptation near Jericho, before returning to Galilee to start his ministry. This part of this life was spent traveling to the various villages of Galilee to preach the word of God. On a biblical tour of Galilee, base yourself on the shore of the Sea of Galilee within easy reach of the many biblical sites. This incredible body of water was where Christ met several of his disciples, and where he performed miracles such as calming the storm and walking on water.

Yardenit

Yardenit, situated along the Jordan River, offers a spiritual experience for those seeking baptism. Pilgrims come to renew their faith and connect with the symbolic waters of the Jordan where Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist. Yardenit is perhaps not the exact point along the river where Jesus was baptized (it may have been at Qasr el-Yehud near Jericho) but here you can enjoy modern facilities, handrails leading into the water, and a complex built specifically for pilgrims.

Mount of Beatitudes

The Mount of Beatitudes, overlooking the Sea of Galilee, is where Jesus delivered the Sermon on the Mount. Pilgrims find inspiration in the teachings of the Beatitudes as they contemplate the breathtaking scenery and visit the Roman Catholic church built on the Mount. The present church was built in the 1930s on the site of an earlier Byzantine church. The octagonal-shaped church was designed by Antonio Barluzzi.

Tabgha

Tabgha is renowned for the multiplication of the loaves and fishes. The Church of the Multiplication features a beautiful Byzantine mosaic floor. Pilgrims often visit the nearby Church of the Primacy of St. Peter designed by Barluzzi, where the main feature is a rock known as the Mensa Christi, where Christ is believed to have dined with the disciples.

Capernaum

Capernaum (Kfar Nahum), known as Jesus’s “own town,” boasts the ruins of a synagogue and the house of Peter. Jesus is said to have based himself in Capernaum during his ministry and he performed several miracles while here. The site includes archaeological ruins of a synagogue where Jesus may have preached, as well as the remains of Peter’s home. In the 5th century an octagonal church was built around Peter’s home, and today a modern structure protects the remains.

Jerusalem: The Holy City

If you want to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, then you can’t miss Jerusalem. Jesus visited Jerusalem as a boy with his parents, and several times during his ministry. But the most celebrated time he spent in the Holy City was in the last week of his life, Passion Week. He made a triumphant entrance into the city on a donkey, as people welcomed him by laying palm leaves at his feet. Today this is celebrated as Palm Sunday. You can join a procession on Palm Sunday that retraces Jesus’ route as he enters the city.

Western Wall and Temple Mount

Jesus visited the Jewish Temple on Temple Mount where he found money changers and traders doing business in God’s house. He threw them out (“cleansed the Temple”) and also spent time teaching in the Temple. It is possible to visit Temple Mount but it is only open to non-Muslims for a short time each day. The Temple no longer stands, but you can see the magnificent Dome of the Rock. If you want to see the only remaining part of the Temple, then visit the adjacent Western Wall. This is a sacred site for Jews and Christians alike.

Room of the Last Supper (Cenacle)

Jesus gathered with his disciples in an upper room to share the Last Supper, during which he instituted the sacrament of Communion and foretold his betrayal. You’ll find the Cenacle on the upper level of a building on Mount Zion just outside the Old City walls. In the lower part of the building is the Tomb of King David.

Mount of Olives

On that same night, when they finished the last supper, Jesus and his disciples walked to the Mount of Olives, where the events leading to his arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane unfolded. You can visit the Garden of Gethsemane, and the adjacent Church of All Nations (Basilica of the Agony) which marks the place where Jesus prayed. The mount is also home to several other Christian sites including the Church of Pater Noster, Dominus Flevit Church, and the Ascension Chapel.

Old City of Jerusalem

Jesus was tried in front of Pilate, the Roman governor, and he began his walk along the Via Dolorosa towards the site of his crucifixion. You can follow Jesus’ footsteps along this route, passing the Stations of the Cross, each marked by a small church or altar. The route culminated at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the most sacred Christian site in the world. The Old City of Jerusalem, with its labyrinthine streets surrounded by 16th-century walls, is a highlight of any trip to the Holy Land. Explore the Armenian, Muslim, Christian, and Jewish quarters, and see the top religious sites of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.

Church of the Holy Sepulchre

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre holds immense significance as the traditional site of Jesus’s crucifixion, burial, and resurrection. The church was built in the 4th century and is a massive structure shared by several Christian denominations. It encompasses Calvary and the Tomb of Christ. Wander through the cavernous halls stopping at the various altars, chapels, and liturgical art. This is truly the highlight of any biblical tour that follows Jesus’ footsteps through the Holy Land.

 

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