Many significant sites from the life of Jesus await a pilgrim to the Holy Land. One can walk the Way of the Cross, visit the Upper Room, peer into the Church of the Nativity, pray at the Garden of Gethsemane and meditate at the Sea of Galilee. But one site has proven elusive—the childhood home of Jesus.
That may be changing. A first-century house found under a Byzantine-era church, which is underneath the Sisters of Nazareth convent, may be the place. While written documents from the Byzantine period claim it was the site of Jesus’ home, archaeologists dismissed the notion until recently. Excavations started in 2006 indicate the old records might well be accurate.
What does this site tell us about the Holy Family in general and Joseph specifically? Rather than being a free-standing unit, it is carved into the rocks of a hillside. The excavator, Ken Dark from the University of Reading in England, writes that it consisted of a series of rooms with stone walls. He explains that the quality of the masonry indicates that whoever built the structure had extensive experience as a master stoneworker, which is what would have been expected of Joseph as a tekton, the word used in Scripture for his occupation.
The site also contained cooking pots, a whorl used for spinning thread, and limestone vessels. The vessels are important because Jewish belief stated that limestone could not become impure, so it is likely that a Jewish family lived here.
While we cannot know for sure if this was the home of Joseph, the location and the quality of the workmanship, and the long (sometimes forgotten) history of the place give us a strong indication that it could be. If so, it shows once again that Joseph was not only a superb craftsman, but he was also an excellent husband and provider for his family.
“St. Joseph did not do extraordinary things, but rather by the constant practice of ordinary and common virtues, he attained that sanctity which elevates him above all the other saints.” –Saint Joseph Marello
Saint Joseph, help us all to care for our families with the same dedication that you cared for yours. Amen.
Image credit: Statue of the Holy Family located in the courtyard of the Sisters of Nazareth convent