Where the Catholics (and many others) claim that the Angel Gabriel appeared to Mary at her home, the Greek Orthdox Church has a separate tradition. They maintain that Mary was collecting water at a local well when the Annunciation took place, and so their Church of the Annunciation is situated north of the main basilica, and over a spring.
I visited in the Easter season. The splendid decorations around the already opulent basilica show just how seriously, or rather how joyously, the loca Orthodox population take it. Everything, from crosses to pictures, is wreathed in flowers, including this painting of the Annunciation itself.
The well itself is in the apse of a subterranean chapel seven steps below the main church. The barrel-vaulted chapel is simple but still decorated with mosaics. The water is mixed with the petitions of pilgrims, be they prayers on paper, or coins and notes dropped in.
The original church was probably built in the Byzantine era. Various witnesses attest to its existence over the centuries, but the modern, above ground church, was only built in 1750. Although a Greek Orthodox site, its management was handed to the Arab Orthodox community at the point, and it remains in their care to this day.
Early in the morning, the lamps need tending to, the floors need sweeping and mopping, and general housekeeping must be maintained. There's an aura of business and calm all mixed together, an intensity matched by the magnificence of the furnishing.
As is conventional in an Orthodox church, the altar is screened off by icons painted onto wooden panels, known as an iconostasis, and added to the church in 1767. Not only partitioning the altar from worshippers, it gives worshippers, and visitors, a visual narrative to engage with.
The spring over which the church is built continues across the square, to the building known as Mary's Well, and providing water for the ancient bathhouse. Located about 650m from the main Basilica of the Annunciation, it is easy to find, but parking is limited. The square also houses a number of restaurants, making it a key spot for evening visits, as well as any morning or daytime worship. The main church is easily accessible, but the chapel to the well is only accessible via the steps.