(FFHL) The Church of St. Anne is a beautiful 12th century church erected over the traditional site of the birthplace of Anne (Hannah), the mother of Mary. The Church was built by the Crusaders in 1140 to commemorate the place of the birth of Mary. However, after additional investigation, most church scholars believe that it was in the town of Sepphoris, not far from Nazareth, that Mary was born. Unlike other Crusader churches, St. Anne’s was not destroyed by the Mamelukes. Instead, in 1192 Saladin the Moslem conqueror, turned the church into a Moslem theological school and left it whole. An inscription is still above the entrance in Arabic “Salahiya” (Saladin). Eventually abandoned, the church fell into ruin until the Ottomans donated it to France in 1856 as a sign of appreciation for helping them in the Crimean War of the 1850’s. It was subsequently restored, but most of what remains today is original.

What first strikes the visitor to St. Anne’s Church is its simplicity, both within the unadorned interior and on the clear, clean lines of its façade. There is also a sense of majesty, perhaps lent by the church’s stark cross-vaulted ceilings and giant pillars. Stone steps lead to a crypt below the church, where an altar is dedicated to Mary. It is said that during the Moslem occupation of Israel, Christian pilgrims were permitted inside the grotto, for a price, and it is here that the Franciscans celebrated mass from the mid-sixteenth century on.

The church is located next to the Bethesda Pool, believed to be the site where Jesus healed a paralytic (John 5:1-15). You can see the ruins of a Roman temple to the god of medicine and remains of a Byzantine church built over the temple.

St. Anne’s Church is just a few hundred feet east of the Sanctuaries of the Flagellation and the Condemnation, at the beginning of the Via Dolorosa. Visitors will often hear a person or group singing as they enter the church as the acoustics, designed for Gregorian chant, are so perfect that the church is virtually a musical instrument to be played by the human voice. Only religious songs are permitted to be sung in St. Anne’s Church. Pilgrim groups come throughout the day to sing. The acoustics are most amazing when used by a soprano or a tenor solo voice. It has been said that when a choir sings in the church the very heavens seem to ring!