Church of the Tomb of Mary
The church is located in the Wadi Qadrun, located at the foot of the western slope of the Mount of Olives, on the main route between Jerusalem and al-‘Ayzariyya, Jerusalem
Beginning of Hegira 6th century / AD 12th century
The Virgin Mary, the mother of Christ, has an important and significant place in Islamic doctrine. There is an entire chapter in the Holy Qur'an that bears the name of Mary, in addition to her being considered the highest exemplar of the virtues of chastity and purity in the Islamic culture.
The historian, Al-Hanbali (d. AH 928 / AD 1522) mentions that the grave of the Virgin Mary was in a church famous as a place of pilgrimage for both Christians and Muslims. He mentioned that when the Caliph ‘Umar Ibn al-Khattab (r. AH 13-23 / AD 634–44) visited Jerusalem after the conquest of AH 17 / AD 638, he passed by the Church of Mary and prayed two rak'ats in it. The pan-faith significance of the church serves as an explanation as to why there is a large mihrab to the south of the tomb.
The origin of the building was a natural cave, upon which a Byzantine church was erected in AD 582 - 602. The church was built on two levels and bore the name of Mary, Mother of Christ. In the course of time the church deteriorated and another was built to replace it. The traveller, Arculf described the Western-style roof of the church in around AH 49–50 / AD 670. The Crusaders undertook the rebuilding of the present church on their arrival in Jerusalem. Despite the fact that the four Gospels do not mention either the death or the place of burial of the Virgin Mary, Eastern Christian tradition considers the location of the church to be where the Virgin Mary is buried and where she made her ascent to heaven.
The entrance to the church is preceded by an open courtyard with a square plan. There is a 5 m drop from the public pathway into the church portal, negotiated by way of a descending staircase. The entrance has a great rectangular door above which there is a pointed stone arch built in the Gothic-Crusader style. The entrance leads to a long and broad vaulted staircase area, which descends in 47 marble stairs. The vaulted area is roofed with a series of consecutive arches supported by intersecting vaults that dominate the building. At the end of the vaulted area lies the tomb of the Virgin Mary; originating as a cave, part of the architectural fabric is excavated from rock, while some has been built. The shrine descends 12 m from the level of the church entrance. The tomb is a carved block of rock that lies at the centre of the eastern section of the cave. In this form, it resembles the tomb of Jesus in the middle of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. To the south of the grave there is a large undecorated mihrab crowned by a dome.
The church is located to the east of the old city. Its construction was undertaken in the late Byzantine period at a cavern that was considered to be the grave of the Virgin Mary, who occupies a distinguished place in both Islam and Christianity. The present building goes back to the Crusader period and is in the Gothic style. Little remains of the architectural elements of the former churches at this site. The site is also sacred to Muslims and the church contains a number of mihrabs (niches).
The church is dated by information concerning the site, which is further supported by primary historical sources.
Al-Hanbali, Mujir al-Din (d. 927 / 1520), Al-Uns al-Jalil fi Tarikh al-Quds wa al-Khalil [The Significant Ambiance in the History of Jerusalem and Hebron], Amman, 1973.
Murphy-O'Conner, J., The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide from Earliest Times to 1700, Oxford, 1998.
Yusuf al-Natsheh "Church of the Tomb of Mary" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2019. 2019. http://islamicart.museumwnf.org/database_item.php?id=monument;ISL;pa;Mon01;24;en
Prepared by: Yusuf Al-NatshehYusuf al-Natsheh
Yusuf Said Natsheh is a Palestinian and since 1997 he has been Director of the Department of Islamic Archaeology in al-Haram al-Sharif in Jerusalem. He is a lecturer at al-Quds University. He was educated in Jerusalem and Cairo and in 1997 obtained his Ph.D. from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. Dr Natsheh is a council member of many Palestinian societies for architectural heritage and a consultant for various projects on Jerusalem. He has written books and more than 40 articles about Jerusalem's architectural heritage including the architectural survey of Ottoman architecture in R. Hillenbrand and S. Auld (eds) Ottoman Jerusalem: The Living City 1517–1917 (London: Altajir World of Islam Trust, 2000). He has contributed to many international and national conferences. He supervised the restoration project, sponsored by the Arab League, on Mamluk monuments in and around al-Haram al-Sharif, and was Palestinian expert for the UNESCO mission to Jerusalem in 2004.
Copyedited by: Majd Musa
Translation by: Amal Sachedina (from the Arabic).
Translation copyedited by: Mandi Gomez
MWNF Working Number: PA 24
Islamic Dynasties / Period
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