Another breathtaking Biblical site on our journey is the Church of St. Anne, the best-preserved Crusader church in Jerusalem. This location marks the home of Jesus’ maternal grandparents, Anne and Joachim, as well as the birthplace of the Virgin Mary. The church showcases a beautiful courtyard with greenery, trees and flowers. Unlike the surrounding busyness of the Muslim Quarter, this location possesses a unique serenity. Nearby, sits the Pools of Bethesda excavation area where Christ healed the sick man in John 5:2-9. Although the New Testament does not specify details about the birthplace of Mary, in the apocryphal Gospel of James an ancient tradition from approximately AD 150 places the home of Mary’s parents nearby the temple area. The church built sometime around 450 on the site of St. Anne’s is a tribute to where “Mary was born.”
The exterior of the Church of St. Anne resembles a fortress. There is no consistency in the architectural design. Windows, columns and buttresses vary in height, size and thickness. Yet, this holy site is a reverent place of focused prayer. The acoustics are incredible and the sound of a small choral group can sound like an entire congregation in a huge cathedral.
Shortly after the construction of the present structure in 1140 AD, the Church of St. Anne was seized in Muslim conquest. The basilica was not destroyed, but instead turned into an Islamic law school by Sultan Saladin, whose name is still above the main entrance. Nearly three centuries later, the structure was abandoned and France began restoring it back to its original state. The Church of St. Anne was restored again a second time after the Six Day War in 1967.
Inside the crypt that is believed to be Mary’s birthplace, there are three periods portrayed at the front of the altar: the Annunciation on the right; the Descent of Jesus from the Cross in the center; and the Nativity of Jesus on the left. The crypt is accessible by a flight of stone steps leading down to an altar dedicated to the alleged home of Mary’s parents and the Virgin Mary’s birthplace.