Tomb of Mary

| October 17, 2012 | 0 Comments
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Tomb of Mary

The Christian Gospel doesn’t mention the death or burial of Mary, mother of the Christian Savior.

Berthold Werner  Public Domain Tomb of Mary

Berthold Werner  Public Domain
Tomb of Mary

Nonetheless, there is a tradition that her tomb is located at the foot of the Mount of Olives. On this spot there is a low-lit 5th century CE Crusader church containing a sizable crypt that holds an empty tomb. The ancient church is one of the oldest houses of worship in all of Jerusalem.

The Tomb of Mary is just oozing with atmosphere. The lighting, for instance, consists of many hanging lamps, giving you the feeling that this is a very old and important place. Visitors descend stairs and enter the crypt by bending forward, a requirement to ensure proper respect is given.  After walking about 40 feet from the church entrance, visitors descend 47 marble stairs to the tomb.

Tomb of Mary Magdalene

David Lisbona  CC BY 2.0 Stairs Down to the Tomb of Mary

David Lisbona  CC BY 2.0
Stairs Down to the Tomb

Other sites also lay claim to the title of Mary’s place of burial, notably Ephesus, located in Kusadasi, Turkey. Ephesus was an important strategic location in the ancient world, serving as a commercial and Christian religious center. But the tradition surrounding the Jerusalem Tomb of Mary site goes as far back as the 2nd or 3rd century CE. This tradition was reinforced in the 5th century CE as theologians debated the claims regarding Ephesus as the true burial site of Mary.

History of Mary’s Tomb

Many people call this the Cave Church because the original tomb was cloistered by dint of carving away the surrounding rock, around the year 455 CE. This same process was applied to the tomb of the Christian Savior during the time of the Emperor Constantine, who had the Church of the Holy Sepulchre built on that site.

The first written documentation of a church on Mount of Olives with the Tomb of Mary dates back to the 6th century CE. The text describes a round church built by Mauritius Tiberius (582-602 CE) just above the tomb. This church was destroyed by the Persians in 614 CE.

But as is the case with many houses of worship in the Holy Land, the church was rebuilt by the Crusaders. Arculf, a Frankish bishop, made a pilgrimage here in 680 CE and described the church as a two-story, round building. According to Arculf, the upper level contained no fewer than four altars, while the lower level contained one altar on its eastern side, with Mary’s tomb to the right. A 9th century CE church record has also been found, stating that the church was ministered by 13 elders and priests, 6 monks and 15 nuns.

James Emery  CC BY 2.0 Structure Near the Tomb of Mary

James Emery  CC BY 2.0
Structure Near The Tomb

The Crusaders found only ruins on the site and rebuilt the church in 1130 CE. They included a Benedictine monastery in their complex, calling it the Abbey Church of St. Mary of Jehosaphat. The monastic edifice had design elements including (early) Gothic columns, three defensive towers, and frescoes with a red on green design. Queen Melisende,  an important ruler during the Crusader period in Israel, was buried in the lower level of the church in 1161 CE.

After the Crusaders lost Jerusalem in 1187 CE, Saladin had the upper church largely obliterated, using the stone to make repairs to the war-torn city walls. However, the lower level of the church was left almost untouched. The Franciscans took over the administration of the site, which today is shared among various sects and denominations: Abyssinians, Copts, Syrians, Armenians, Greeks and even Muslims.

The Muslims have a tradition that Mohammed saw a light shining above the Tomb of Mary during his night journey from Mecca to Jerusalem, making it a site of holy pilgrimage for those of the Mohammedan faith as well.

Tomb of Mary: Did You Know?

Mary is reputed to have ascended to heaven with her earthly body in what is known as the “Assumption into Heaven.”  On August 15th, Christians celebrate the Feast of Assumption, or as it is known in the Orthodox Church, the Dormition of the Theotokos.  The tomb is considered by many Christians as a shrine for where this event occurred.

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Category: Christianity

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