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Mary's Well

Coordinates: 32°42′24.16″N 35°18′5.62″E / 32.7067111°N 35.3015611°E / 32.7067111; 35.3015611
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Mary's Well in 1839, by David Roberts, from The Holy Land, Syria, Idumea, Arabia, Egypt, and Nubia
A structure of white stone containing an arch is seen in a plaza of similar stone. Two short trees are shown in the foreground.
Mary's Well in Nazareth, 2005.

Mary's Well (Arabic: عين العذراء, ʿAin il- ʿadhrāʾ or "The spring of the Virgin Mary") is reputed to be located at the site where, according to one Christian tradition associated with the apocryphal Gospel of James, Archangel Gabriel appeared to Mary, mother of Jesus and announced that she would bear the Son of God – an event known as the Annunciation. It has been further associated in the past with episodes from another apocryphal infancy gospel, the Infancy Gospel of Thomas.[1]

Found just below the Greek Orthodox Church of St Gabriel in modern-day Nazareth, dedicated to the Annunciation, the well was until recently fed by an aqueduct connected to a spring, and served for centuries as a local watering hole for the Palestinian villagers. Rebuilt twice in the 20th century, once in 1967 and once in 2000, the current structure is a symbolic representation of the one that was once in use. According to Fu'ad Farah, "the Orthodox community supported replacing the structure, because then pilgrims and tourists could note that because of its newness it was not a traditional site", the traditional site he meant being the "spring" inside the Orthodox church. To further encorage pilgrims to visit the church, the pipes supplying the well with water were cut while it was being rebuilt.[2]

Two, maybe even three sites are popularly known as Mary's Well – the spring underneath the Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation, the well structure in the plaza 50 yards to the south of it, and a presumed spring underneath the Basilica of the Annunciation.[3][4][dubiousdiscuss]

This article primarily describes the well structure in the plaza, which has been dry since the 1990s.[5][6] Originally outside the urban center of Nazareth, it was a popular square and meeting place for the Palestinian community in Nazareth until the Nakba,[dubiousdiscuss] and has become a symbol of the city of Nazareth.[7]

In religious texts[edit]

Apocryphal Gospel of James[edit]

Painting imagining how the well might have looked in the 1st century AD (Vasily Dmitrievich Polenov).

The earliest written source[dubiousdiscuss] mentioning to a well or spring being the site of the Annunciation comes from the Protoevangelium of James, a non-canonical gospel dating to the 2nd century.[8] The author writes:

"And she took the pitcher and went forth to draw water, and behold, a voice said: 'Hail Mary, full of grace, you are blessed among women.'"[9]

Infancy Gospel of Thomas[edit]

The Infancy Gospel of Thomas mentions the boy Jesus breaking the jar he was supposed to bring water with from the well, but miraculously carrying the water in his mantle instead.[10]

Gospel of Luke[edit]

The canonical Gospel of Luke does not mention the drawing of water in its account of the Annunciation.


The Koran records a spirit in the form of a man visiting a chaste Mary to inform her that the Lord has granted her a son to bear, without referencing the drawing of water, but records a stream of water coming up from the ground at her feet when she was giving birth of Jesus in the same passage of the Koran: Sura 19:16-25.

History and archaeology[edit]

Byzantine period[edit]

Excavations by Yardenna Alexandre and Butrus Hanna of the Israel Antiquities Authority in 1997-98, sponsored by the Nazareth Municipality and the Government Tourist Corporation, discovered a series of underground water systems and suggested that the site today known as Mary's Well served as Nazareth's main water supply from as early as Byzantine times. Despite having found Roman era potsherds, Alexandre's report claimed hard evidence of Roman-era use of the site was lacking.[11][12]

19th century[edit]

Titus Tobler's 1868 map of Nazareth: top right is the "Greek Church" (spring underneath); at bottom-center is the "Latin monastery" (today surrounding the rebuilt Basilica of the Annunciation)

William Rae Wilson describes "a well of the Virgin, which supplied the inhabitants of Nazareth with water" in his book, Travels in Egypt and the Holy Land (1824).[13]

Well of St. Mary, by Felix Bonfils, ca 1880
Women at Fountain of the Virgin, Nazareth, 1891[14]

James Finn, then British Consul in Jerusalem, visited Nazareth in late June 1853 and his company pitched their tents near the fountain, - the only fountain there. He writes that "the water at this spring was very deficient this summer season, yielding only a petty trickling to the anxious inhabitants. All night long the women were there with their jars, chattering, laughing, or scolding in competition for their turns. [ ] It suggested a strange current of ideas to overhear pert damsels using the name of Miriam (Mary), in jest and laughter at the fountain of Nazareth"[15]

20th and 21st centuries[edit]

While the current structure referred to as Mary's Well is a non-functional reconstruction inaugurated as part of the Nazareth 2000 celebrations,[16] the traditional Mary's Well was a local watering hole, with an overground stone structure. Through the centuries, villagers would gather here to fill water pitchers (up until 1966[dubiousdiscuss]) or otherwise congregate to relax and exchange news.[17] At another area not too far off,[where?] which tapped into the same water source, shepherds and others with domesticated animals would bring their herds to drink.

Postcard of Mary's Well, by Karimeh Abbud, ca 1925.

Ancient water installations[edit]

Amateur as well as professional archaeological work near the well has produced data on ancient water installations including a bath house. The dates are as yet inconclusive, going back to at least the Mamluk period (see article).


  • Slyomovics, Susan (2009). "Edward Said's Nazareth". Framework: The Journal of Cinema and Media. 50 (1/2). [Drake Stutesman, Wayne State University Press]: 9–45. ISSN 0306-7661. JSTOR 41552537. Retrieved 2023-02-04.
  • Emmett, Chad F. (1995). Beyond the basilica : Christians and Muslims in Nazareth. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0-226-20711-0. OCLC 30735259.


  1. ^ Pringle, Denys (1998). The Churches of the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem: L-Z (excluding Tyre) (Illustrated ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 140–143. ISBN 0-521-39037-0.
  2. ^ Emmett 1995, p. 83: "With the building of the several churches at the site, the water was eventually channeled fifty yards beyond the church to make it more accessible to villagers. The structure built over the terminus of the water supply has a distinct shape, resembling five sides of an octagon standing on end. Several decades ago, the municipality, which owns Mary's well and uses its image on the municipal logo, tore down the centuries-old structure and replaced it with a larger limestone structure in the same five-sided shape. Fu'ad Farah noted that the Orthodox community supported replacing the structure, because then pilgrims and tourists could note that because of its newness it was not a traditional site. Farah took action to further ensure that pilgrims visited the correct site by personally cutting the pipes leading down to Mary's well."
  3. ^ Slyomovics 2009, p. 18: "Despite the location of Mary's well in the crypt of Greek Orthodox St. Gabriel's Church, popular belief conflates this miraculous event to yet a third site hydrologically connected to the second at Nazareth's central spring known also as the Virgin's Fountain or St. Mary's Well Square. Differences between the two churches are doubly spatial: not only the dispute over the precise spot of the Annunciation, but a set of spatial differences in which Greek Orthodox popular belief gives prominence to the public space of Nazareth's meeting point as opposed to the private, intimate, domestic female space described by Latin Christian texts."
  4. ^ Slyomovics 2009, p. 16: "Despite the singularity of the miracle of the messianic Annunciation, two churches built in Nazareth each vied to preserve a unique moment in mankind's history at a precise locale that marks when and where the Angel Gabriel appeared to Mary in fulfillment of the prophecy in Isaiah 7:14: "Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel." For Roman Catholics, the divine-human encounter enacted through Gabriel to Mary occurred within the courtyard confines of the Basilica of the Annunciation. Built as late as 1730 as a Franciscan church, demolished in 1955, and constructed anew by 1969, the Basilica is a Nazareth landmark labeled the largest house of Christian worship for Roman Catholics in the Middle East. The Basilica stands in contrast to parallel claims of the Greek Orthodox location of the Annunciation. As with two Annunciation sites in Nazareth, there are also two, if not three, wells associated with the Virgin Mary where Mary, accompanied by the child Jesus, drew water for her everyday needs: one located within the enclosure walls of the Roman Catholic Basilica, and a second, within the Greek Orthodox St. Gabriel Church in the Chapel of the Spring, both sites renowned as tourist and pilgrimage destinations for centuries. Sectarian differences focus on the geography of the Annunciation, less so sustained by core theological divergences. Each church claims to possess the actual geographical feature of Mary's Well, just as each church maintains the association of the Virgin Mary symbolically and mythically with water."
  5. ^ Slyomovics 2009, p. 16b: "Since the late 1990s, the well is dry; there is no water. Indeed, states of enforced dryness are cultural and geographical hallmarks of Nazareth."
  6. ^ Slyomovics 2009, p. 29: "Although the well on the plaza had always been a shrine in its own right, to eliminate confusing the devout, who were directed on pilgrimage to the interior well in St. Gabriel's Greek Orthodox church crypt away from the exterior central plaza well of popular belief, drastic measures were taken to cut the water flow from the church to the public space of the well on the square."
  7. ^ Slyomovics 2009, p. 29b.
  8. ^ Slyomovics 2009, p. 41.
  9. ^ Chad Fife Emmett (1995). Beyond the Basilica:Christians and Muslims in Nazareth. University of Chicago Press. p. 81. ISBN 0-226-20711-0.
  10. ^ Pringle140
  11. ^ Alexandre, Yardenna. 2012. Mary's Well, Nazareth. The Late Hellenistic to the Ottoman Periods. Jerusalem, IAA Reports 49.
  12. ^ Alexandre, Yardenna. "Excavations at Mary's Well, Nazareth". Israeli Antiquities Authority. Archived from the original on 2020-01-26. Retrieved 2006-05-30.
  13. ^ William Rae Wilson (1824). Travels in Egypt and the Holy Land. Oxford University. p. 212.
  14. ^ “Fountain of the Virgin, Nazareth.” A Month in Palestine and Syria, April 1891. New Boston Fine and Rare Books, 1 February 2012. Web. 4 February 2012. <http://www.newbostonfineandrarebooks.com/?page=shop/disp&pid=page_PalestineSyria&CLSN_1291=13281208221291adfc56628c3b7bbb6e Archived 2017-11-16 at the Wayback Machine>
  15. ^ James Finn: Stirring Times, or, Records from Jerusalem Consular Chronicles of 1853 to 1856. Edited and Compiled by His Widow E. A. Finn. Volume 2, p. 23, London 1878.
  16. ^ Daniel Monterescu and Dan Rabinowitz (2007). Mixed Towns, Trapped Communities: Historical Narratives, Spatial Dynamics. p. 195. ISBN 0-7546-4732-3.
  17. ^ William Eleroy Curtis (1903). To-day in Syria and Palestine. F.H. Revell company. p. 244.

External links[edit]

32°42′24.16″N 35°18′5.62″E / 32.7067111°N 35.3015611°E / 32.7067111; 35.3015611