During my tour of Israel in May, 2023, we visited a number of churches and I often heard Antonio Barluzzi was the architect appointed by the Franciscans to design and build churches atop the ruins of Byzantine and Crusader churches that had been destroyed or fallen into disrepair during the Ottoman period.
When I returned home I decided to read up on his achievements and found out he became know as the Architect of the Holy Land.
The maternal grandfather of Italian architect Antonio Barluzzi (1884-1960), was the architect responsible for the maintenance of St. Peter’s Basilica, so Antonio had holy architecture in his blood!
For many years he considered entering a seminary, but on the advice of his spiritual mentor and encouragement of his older brother Giulio, already an architect, he entered the engineering school to study architecture.
His first two achievement were at Mt Tabor and in the Garden of Gethsemane.
Aren't they beautiful? You can see why the Franciscans asked him to contine and in all he built or restored 24 churches, hospitals and schools between 1912 and 1955.
Allthough I did not visit these two churches, I had the good fortune to visit some of the others designed by Barluzzi and each of them were memorable in their own way.
The first time I heard Antonio Barluzzi's name was at Shepherds' Field in the village of Beit Sahur, near Bethlehem, the place where, according to Catholic tradition, angels appeared to the shepherds and announced the birth of Jesus.
The main chapel dates to the 1950s, built near the ruins of an ancient monastery. Barluzzi designed it to represent a Bedouin tent, with a simple grey stone structure, surmounted by a small starry dome. Light streams in on beautiful frescoes, inside each of the five apses. It has a central altar and as we entered a bible group gathered around. It was very moving as we joined in to sing O Come All Ye Faithful, in this small, intimate space.
I heard Barluzzi’s name again in Bethlehem when we visited the Church of the Nativity. Like many of the religious sites there are often several churches in the one complex. Here the Cloister of St Catherine's Church next door was designed by Antonio Barluzzi.
Such a peaceful and restful place sitting in the gardens admiring the arches and columns so tastefully designed.
By the time we arrived at the Church of the Beatitudes, near the Sea of Galilee I already had an idea it had been designed by Antonio Barluzzi. There is something about his churches that draws you in and a sense of peace descends. This modern church recognises the place where Jesus preached his sermon on the mount and was built between 1936 and 1938 near the site of the 4th century Byzantine ruins.
The octagonal floor plan represents the eight Beatitudes. This sweet church features marble veneer casing on the lower interior walls and a gold mosaic in the dome.
Again a central altar and around it mosaic symbols on the floor represent Fortitude, Temperance, Faith, Hope, and Charity.
As you can see the church has a lovely view across the Sea of Galilee.
In Nazareth, when we visited the Church of Annunciation I once again heard Antonio Barluzzi’s name, but this time, although he did present a design for this church, there remains a mystery as to why it was not accepted and Giovanni Muzio was offered the commission.
I loved Barluzzi’s churches, but as you will read tomorrow, the Church of Annunciation is very impressive and in the end turned out to be my favourite.