The first church was likely built in the middle of the 4th century, consisting of an altar in the cave where Mary had lived. A larger building was commissioned by Emperor Constantine I, whom with his mother, Saint Helena, erected many Christian churches. The Church of the Annunciation was constructed around the same time as the Church of the Nativity, and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The church was later destroyed in the 7th century after the Muslims conquered the land.
The second church was founded over the ruins of the Byzantine church during the Crusades. The Crusader church was never completed when news of Saladin's victory in the Battle of Hittin in 1187 reached Nazareth. Saladin granted permission to Franciscan priests to remain in Nazareth to manage and provide services at the church.
In 1260 the Mamluk army destroyed the church during an attack on the city of Nazareth. Some Franciscans managed to stay in Nazareth until the fall of Acre in 1291. In the three centuries that came after, the Franciscans came in and out of managing the church due to political situations and who was in power. Franciscan write of this time and period with documents describing the expulsion in 1363, and a return in 1468, and a later massacre of some of their perish in 1542. Local Nazarenes as well as Franciscans helped care of the church during this absence of Franciscans.
In 1620 the Franciscans were granted permission to return, at immediately constructed a small building to enclose the holy grotto that is revered as the house of Mary. In 1730 a new church was constructed on the site, which became a central gathering place for the people in Nazareth. The church was expanded in 1877, and then completely demolished in 1954 for the construction of a new impressive basilica.
Today the Basilica of Annunciation is the largest Christian sanctuary in the Middle East, and a highlight of Christian Israel tours to the Holy Land. The beautiful two-story church was completed in 1969, over the sites of the earlier churches. The Church is topped with an impressive dome 55 meters tall. The inspiring shape of the dome is designed after the Madonna lily, a symbol of the Virgin Mary. Entering the church in the lower level you will come to the Grotto of the Annunciation, believed by many to be the remains of the childhood home of Mary, and on the upper level the church beautifully displays mosaics of Virgin Mary’s from around the world. The location of the Basilica in Nazareth is a historically significant site, considered holy by the thousands of Christians traveling to Israel whom flock the church every year.