Tomb of the Virgin Mary

Tomb attributed to the Virgin Mary, the burial caves were cut into the rock in the 1st century CE. They were later expanded into a cross-shaped church with the tomb in its center. In the 6th century CE an octagon shaped church was built on the upper level, covering the tomb. It is the burial site of Mary, mother of Jesus in both, Islamic and Christian tradition.

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circa 40 CE

View of the tomb entrance from the courtyard. In the north-east corner of the outer courtyard a narrow alley (inspect) leads to the Grotto of Gethsemane. Later, Saints Epiphanius of Salamis, Gregory of Tours, Isidore of Seville, Modest, Sophronius of Jerusalem, German of Constantinople, Andrew of Crete, and John of Damascus talk about the tomb being in Jerusalem, and bear witness that this tradition was accepted by all the Churches of East and West. The location of the Tomb of Mary is across the Kidron Valley from Lion’s Gate in the Old City walls of Jerusalem, just before Gethsemane.

circa 40 CE

A small upper church on an octagonal footing was built by Patriarch Juvenal (during Marcian's rule) over the location in the 5th century; this was destroyed in the Persian invasion of 614 CE. During the following centuries the church was destroyed and rebuilt many times, but the crypt was left untouched. It was rebuilt then in 1130 by the Crusaders, who installed a walled Benedictine monastery, the Abbey of St. Mary of the Valley of Jehoshaphat; the church is sometimes mentioned as the Shrine of Our Lady of Josaphat. In the second half of the 14th century Franciscan friars rebuilt the church once more.

circa 40 CE

On the eastern side of the church there is the chapel of Mary's tomb (peek inside). The large crypt containing the empty tomb in the Church of the Assumption is all that remains of an early 5th-century church, making it possibly the oldest near-complete religious building in Jerusalem. The edicule is richly decorated with Eastern Orthodox icons, candlesticks and flowers, but the interior is bare. Because the emperor Constantine’s engineers cut away the surrounding rock to isolate the Tomb of Mary in the middle of the crypt, its appearance somewhat resembles to the Aedidule inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

circa 40 CE

Until the fourteenth century the little monument was covered with magnificent marble slabs and the walls of the church were covered with frescoes. Since 1187 the tomb has been the property of the Muslim Government which nevertheless authorizes the Christians to officiate in it. Jesus’ mother Mary remains an icon of ancient history - one of the world’s most famous women of her times and the most important woman of Christianity and Islam. It is not surprising that her alleged tomb continues to be a huge tourist attraction.

circa 40 CE

The internal space is cruciform in shape of unequal arms. In the centre of the eastern arm, 52 feet long and 20 feet wide is the traditional tomb of the Mother of Jesus. It is a little room with a bench hewn from the rocky mass in imitation of the tomb of Christ. This has given it the shape of a cubical edicule, about ten feet in circumference and eight feet high. The dating of the chambers is still uncertain. It is very difficult to identify the period of the tomb’s original structure. All of the tombs of the biblical period look similar. The funerary culture was very well planned, but rather ascetic.

circa 40 CE

The walls of the stairs are 12th century, and include 12th-century windows blocked up to keep out the Kidron floods. Melisande's body was moved in the 14th century to a place at the foot of the stairs, and her tomb was subsequently identified with Mary's parents Joachim and Anne. The tombs of King Baldwin's family were later identified as the tomb of Joseph.

circa 40 CE

A niche south of the tomb is a mihrab (partially visible behind the praying women, inspect) indicating the direction of Mecca, installed when Muslims had joint rights to the church. A small hole (towards left, in the square bedrock, which is part of the sepulchre) in the northern wall of the Mary's tomb allows to look inside the burial (peek inside), people leave written notes and money here. This low door (right) in the norther wall allows exiting after entering from the western door (peek inside).

circa 40 CE

The Greek Orthodox clergy launched a Palm Sunday takeover of various Holy Land sites, including this one, in 1757 and expelled the Franciscans. The Ottomans supported this "status quo" in the courts. Since then, the tomb has been owned by the Greek Orthodox Church and the Armenian Apostolic Church of Jerusalem, while the grotto of Gethsemane remained in the possession of the Franciscans. To the right, a small edicule houses a stone bench on which Mary’s body is believed to have lain.

circa 40 CE

On the western side there is a Syriac altar. The Syriacs, the Copts, and the Ethiopians have minor rights. Though strung with countless lanterns and crowded with icons worth millions of shekels, the space is faintly lit. The egg-shells atop the shrine's pendulous oil lamps aren't an Easter decoration: they form an obstacle course that makes it difficult for rats to clamber down the chain in to the lamps.

circa 40 CE

The Byzantine church lies completely below the bed of the Valley of Josaphat. The Armenian Patriarchate Armenian Apostolic Church of Jerusalem and Greek Orthodox Church of Jerusalem are in possession of the shrine. The crypt, much of it cut into solid rock, is dark and gloomy. The smell of incense fills the air, the ceiling is blackened by centuries of candle smoke, and gold and silver lamps hang in profusion.

circa 40 CE

Although no information about the end of Mary's life or her burial are provided in the New Testament accounts, and many Christians believe that none exist in early apocrypha, some apocryphon are offered as supporting Mary's death (or other final fate). The Book of John about the Dormition of Mary, written in either the 1st, 3rd, 4th, or 7th century, places her tomb in Gethsemene, as does the 4th century Treatise about the passing of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

circa 40 CE

Entered by a wide descending stair dating from the 12th century. On the right side of the staircase (towards the east) there is the chapel of Mary's parents, Joachim and Anne (peek inside), initially built to hold the tomb of Queen Melisende of Jerusalem, the daughter of Baldwin II, whose sarcophagus has been removed from there by the Greek Orthodox. On the left (towards the west) there is the chapel of Saint Joseph, Mary's husband, initially built as the tomb of two other female relatives of Baldwin II. (peek inside)

circa 40 CE

A wide Crusader stairway of nearly 50 steps leads to the crypt. The staircase and entrance were also part of the Crusaders' church. This church was destroyed by Saladin in 1187, but the crypt was still respected; all that was left was the south entrance and staircase, the masonry of the upper church being used to build the walls of Jerusalem. The twentieth step leads into the Church built in the fifth century, to a great extent cut from the rock.

circa 40 CE

The Church of the Assumption stands partly below the level of the main Jerusalem-Jericho road. It is reached by a stairway leading down, from the Tomb of Mujir al-Din, to an open courtyard. As the soil is considerably raised in the Valley of the Cedron, the ancient Church of the Sepulchre of Mary is completely covered and hidden. The Crusader church was built in the first half of the 12th century on the ruins of the earlier Byzantine church. Norov’s 1835 description of the Crusader church is quite detailed: a courtyard, which is accessed by some ten to twelve steps, precedes the stone Tomb of the Virgin.

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