Church of Saint Anne (Jerusalem)

By the Editors of the Madain Project

The Church of Saint Anne (Latin: Ecclesia S. Anna), also known as the Madrasa al-Salahiyya (مدرسة الصلاحيه), is a Roman Catholic church, located at the start of the Via Dolorosa, near the Lions' Gate and churches of the Flagellation and Condemnation, in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem.


It is dedicated to Anna and Joachim, the parents of Saint Mary, who according to tradition lived here. The foundation of a church on this site dates to the Byzantine period, from when the building was continually in use until the Abbasid period.

The pool is known from the New Testament story of healing the paralytic at Bethesda, from the fifth chapter of the Gospel of John; the gospel describes a pool in Jerusalem, near the Sheep Gate, which is surrounded by five covered colonnades.

Brief History

circa 1138 CE

Roman Era
During the Roman Period a pagan shrine (inspect) for the cult of the god of healing (a syncretic mix between the Egyptian god Serapis and the Greek god Asclepius), both gods of healing, stood on the grounds next to the two Pools of Bethesda.

Byzantine Period
A Byzantine basilica was built over the remains of the shrine in the 5th century. Partially destroyed by the Persians in 614, it was subsequently restored. The Byzantine basilica was partly stretched over two water basins, collectively known as the Pool of Bethesda, and built upon a series of piers, one of which still stands today in its entirety.

First Kingdom of Jerusalem
Baldwin I, the first titled Crusader king of Jerusalem, banished his wife Arda to the old Benedictine convent which still existed here in 1104 CE. A small Crusader church, the so-called Moustier, was then erected over the wall separating the northern and southern Pools of Bethesda, among the ruins of the Byzantine church. The actual Church of St Anne followed sometime between 1131 and 1138, during the reign of Queen Melisende. It was erected near the remains of the Byzantine basilica, over the site of a grotto believed by the Crusaders to be the childhood home of the Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus. Built between 1131 and 1138 to replace a previous Byzantine church, and shortly thereafter enlarged by several meters, the church is an excellent example of Romanesque architecture.

Ayyubid Era
In 1192 Ṣalāḥ ad-Dīn, known in the West as Saladin, converted the building into a madrasa (Islamic educational institution), known as al-Madrasa as-Salahiyya (of Saladin), as is still written in the Arabic inscription (inspect) above the entrance. In the 15th century it was considered as the most prestigious college in the city, counting among its more prominent students the Islamic jurist and city historian Mujir al-Din (1456–1522). The transformation of the site into an Islamic school did not, however, deny the building its importance within Christian doctrine. Amir Fakhr al-Din, the Amir of Hama, a relative of Saladin, showed his high regard for the site by supplying it with an ablutions fountain and free-flowing water piped in from the nearby water reservoir. Eventually the madrasa was abandoned and the former church building fell into disrepair.

Ottoman Era
In 1856, in gratitude for French support during the Crimean War, the Ottoman Sultan Abdülmecid I presented it to Napoleon III. It was subsequently restored, but the majority of what remains today is original. Currently St. Anne's belongs to the French government and is administered by the Missionaries of Africa, commonly called "The White Fathers", for the colour of their robes.


circa 1138 CE

This larger church, completed in 1138, was built over the site of a grotto which had (from the fifth or sixth century onwards). Even though it is likely that the artisans who built the Church of St. Anne were the same as those of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, its decoration is a mixture of Eastern and Western styles. Both the dome (inspect) above the transept and the rounded apses show an eastern craftsmanship.

circa 1138 CE

The three-aisled basilica incorporates cross-vaulted ceilings and pillars, clear clean lines and a somewhat unadorned interior. The nave is separated from the lower lateral aisles by arcades of arches. The high altar, designed by the French sculptor Philippe Kaeppelin incorporates many different scenes. On the front of the altar are depicted the Nativity (left), the Descent from the Cross (center) and the Annunciation (right); on the left-hand end is the teaching of Mary by her mother, on the right-hand end her presentation in the Temple. In the south aisle is a flight of steps leading down to the crypt, in a grotto believed by the Crusaders to be Mary's birthplace. An altar dedicated to Mary is located there. Each nave ends in a semi-circular apse, the central one being the largest. The church is lit by narrow windows located high up in the walls to ensure its defense.

circa 1138 CE

A subterranean partly-natural and partly man made crypt is where Mary is believed to have born and lived with her parents Anne and Joachim. The earlist tradition of this being the birthplace of Mary can only be traced back to the Crusader era.

Archaeological Remains

circa 1138 CE

Pool of Bethesda
The archaeological remains here are now associated with the site of a pool known from the New Testament account of Jesus miraculously healing a paralysed man, from the fifth chapter of the Gospel of John, where it is described as being near the Sheep Gate, surrounded by five covered colonnades or porticoes.


See Also


Let's bring some history to your inbox

Signup for our monthly newsletter / online magazine.
No spam, we promise.

Privacy Policy