Mary's Tomb

Mary's Tomb is a tomb located in the Kidron Valley, on the foothills of Mount of Olives, near the Church of All Nations and Gethsemane garden, originally just outside Jerusalem. It is regarded as the burial place of Mary, the mother of Jesus by most Eastern Christians (many of whom refer to her as Theotokos), in contradistinction to the House of the Virgin Mary near Ephesus.

History

Repairs necessitated by a flood in 1972 afforded the opportunity for archaeological investigation of the site. Bellarmino Bagatti, a franciscan friar and archaeologist, performed the excavation, and found evidence of an ancient cemetery, which he dated to the 1st century; his findings have not yet been subject to peer review by the wider archaeological community, and the validity of his dating has not been fully assessed.

Bagatti interpreted the remains to indicate that the cemetery's initial structure consisted of three chambers (the actual tomb being the inner chamber of the whole complex), was adjudged in accordance with the customs of that period. Later, the tomb interpreted by the local Christians to be that of Mary's was isolated from the rest of the necropolis, by cutting the surrounding rock face away from it. An edicule was built on the tomb.

A small upper church on an octagonal footing was built by Patriarch Juvenal (during Marcian's rule) over the location in the 5th century, and was destroyed in the Persian invasion of 614. During the following centuries the church was destroyed and rebuilt many times, but the crypt was left untouched, as for the Muslims it is the burial place of the mother of prophet Isa. 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 monastic complex included early Gothic columns, red-on-green frescoes, and three towers for protection. 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. In the second half of the 14th century Franciscan friars rebuilt the church once more. Since 1757, it has been owned by the Greek Orthodox Church.

The Church

Preceded by a walled courtyard to the south, the cruciform church shielding the tomb has been excavated in an underground rock-cut cave entered by a wide descending stair dating from the 12th century. On the left side of the staircase (towards the west) there is the chapel of Saint Joseph, Mary's husband, while on the right (towards the east) there is the chapel of Mary's parents, Joachim and Anne, holding also the tomb of Queen Melisende of Jerusalem.

On the eastern side of the church there is the chapel of Mary's tomb. Altars of the Greeks and Armenians also share the east apse. A niche south of the tomb is a mihrab indicating the direction of Mecca, installed when Muslims had joint rights to the church. On the western side there is a Coptic altar.

The Greek Orthodox Church of Jerusalem is in possession of the shrine, sharing it with the Armenian Apostolic Church. The Syriacs, the Copts, and the Abyssinians have minor rights. Muslims also have a special place for prayer (the mihrab).

Tradition

The Sacred Tradition of Eastern Christianity teaches that the Virgin Mary died a natural death (the Dormition of the Theotokos, the falling asleep) like any human being; that her soul was received by Christ upon death; and that her body was resurrected on the third day after her repose, at which time she was taken up, soul and body, into heaven in anticipation of the general resurrection. Her tomb, according to this teaching, was found empty on the third day. Roman Catholic teaching holds that Mary was "assumed" into heaven in bodily form, the Assumption; the question of whether or not Mary actually underwent physical death remains open in the Catholic view; however, most theologians believe that she did undergo death before her Assumption.

A narrative known as the Euthymiaca Historia (written probably by Cyril of Scythopolis in the 5th century) relates how the Emperor Marcian and his wife, Pulcheria, requested the relics of the Virgin Mary from Juvenal, the Patriarch of Jerusalem, while he was attending the Council of Chalcedon (451). According to the account, Juvenal replied that, on the third day after her burial, Mary's tomb was discovered to be empty, only her shroud being preserved in the church of Gethsemane.

According to another tradition it was the Cincture of the Virgin Mary which was left behind in the tomb.

Authenticity

The Eastern Orthodox Church acknowledges that Virgin Mary lived in the vicinity of Ephesus, in a place currently known as the House of the Virgin Mary and venerated by Christians and Muslims, but argues that she only stayed there for a few years; this teaching is based on the writings of the Holy Fathers.

Although many Christians believe that no information about the end of Mary's life or her burial are provided in the New Testament accounts or early apocrypha, there are actually over 50 apocryphon about Mary's death (or other final fate). The 3rd century Book of John about the Dormition of Mary places her tomb in Gethsemene, as does the 4th century Treatise about the passing of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

The Breviarius of Jerusalem, a short text written in about AD 395, mentions in that valley the basilica of Holy Mary, which contains her sepulchre. Later, Epiphanius of Salamis, Gregory of Tours, Isidore of Seville, Saint Modest, Sophronius of Jerusalem, German of Constantinople, Andrew of Crete, 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.

Image gallery
  • Façade of Mary's Tomb

  • Staircase of 47 steps leading from the entrance down into the tomb

  • The entrance stairs from between the two chapels.

  • Inside of the Tomb of Mary

  • The sarcophagus in Mary's Tomb

  • Melisende of Jerusalem chapel.

  • Last supper painting.JPG

    Last supper painting at Mary tomb

  • Mary and christ,photo frame at Tomb of Mary

Building Activity

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