Name of Monument:

Madrasa al-Salahiyya

Also known as:

Church of St Ann (Hannah)


The madrasa is located in the old city several meters to the west of the Bab al-Asbat (Lion’s Gate), on the northern side at the beginning of Tariq al-Mujahidin, Jerusalem

Date of Monument:

Hegira 525–33 / AD 1131–8 and AH 588 / AD 1192–3

Period / Dynasty:

Crusader and Ayyubid


The most prominent sponsor during construction of the church was Queen Melisande (d. AH 556 / AD 1161). She was the wife of Baldwin II (r. AD 1118-1131) who was the ruler of Crusader Jerusalem and the mother of Baldwin III (r. 1143–62). Sultan Salah al-Din Ayyubi (known as Saladin who ruled AH 564–89 / AD 1169–93) transformed the site to an Islamic school.


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 building was then neglected for unknown reasons until the Fatimid period, when it was transformed into an establishment for teaching the sciences. It remained as such until the coming of the Franks who built the present church. The site remained in the hands of the Crusaders for close to a century until Salah al-Din Ayyubi (Saladin) liberated Jerusalem in AH 583 / AD 1187. The church was then transformed into a madrasa to teach Shafi'i fiqh (jurisprudence). 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. Saladin's policy of tolerance, for which he was famous, was in evidence, for the Franciscan Fathers were still allowed to practice their religious rituals in the building on important holy days, and pilgrims were allowed to visit the cave located below the building which was said to be the birth place of the Virgin Mary. The site was abandoned in the latter half of the AH 12th / AD 18th century. In the wake of the alliance between France and the Ottoman Empire in the Crimean War against Russia, the Emperor Napoleon III (r. 1268–87 / AD 1852–70) asked Sultan Abd al-Majid (Abdülmecid, r. 1255–77 / AD 1839–61) to grant that the Salahiyya be restored to a church building, which was duly accomplished.
A statue of Cardinal Lavigerie (1825–92), founder of the White Fathers is seen to the north of the garden. The church is accessed by way of a door located south of the central, principal entrance in the northern façade. Just before the entrance the one remaining trace to indicate that the building was formerly a madrasa for Shafi'i fiqh is extant: a panel, 144 cm long and 55 cm wide, which contains a foundation inscription written in the Ayyubid naskhi script composed of five lines. It reads as follows:
“In the Name of God, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful, And who amongst you are blessed but by God.
This Blessed Madrasa was endowed by our master, the ruler, the victorious, the salvation of the world and religion, sultan of Islam and the Muslims, Abi Muzaffar Yusuf bin Ayyub bin Shadi, reviver of the state of the commander of the faithful, May God strengthen his victory and all those who gather with him, between the good of this world and the next, among those legists who follow Imam Abi Abd Allah Muhammad bin Idris al-Shafi'i, may God be pleased with him in the year 588 [1192].”
The church was built on a Gothic basilica-type plan, comprising a rectangle with three aisles, the middle one of which is the widest. The church has a marble floor. The ceiling has intersecting vaults supported by Gothic arches, which are held up by a series of rectangular stone piers. The ceiling of the church apse (where there is an altar) is covered by a shallow semi-dome supported by great arches. The church is barely decorated due to the influence of St Benedict (around 480–547); ornamentation is thus limited to the embellishment of the altar. The relief-carving on the altar was executed by the artist Philip Kiblan in the modern period (1954); he depicts scenes from the New Testament such as the Annunciation, the Nativity and the Pietà. Some of the column capitals are embellished with bull's heads, the symbol of St Luke; and some with a sculpture of the upper torso of a man, symbolising St Matthew; there are a number that are not finished.
As can still be seen to this day in the Madrasa al-Salahiyya, the original church was constructed on top of a natural cave which is covered by a modern stone dome. The cave, which is preceded by a small altar, is thought to be the birth place of the Virgin Mary, according to the Eastern Christian tradition.

View Short Description

This typical Crusader church has not changed since the AH 6th / AD 12th century. Salah al-Din (Saladin) did not alter its distinguishing features when he turned it into a Shafi’i madrasa. The madrasas of Jerusalem were considered crowning exemplars until the second half of the 13th / 19th century from the number of their students and the importance of their teachers. The Ottomans gave the madrasa to the French government who in turn donated it to the White Fathers who transformed it back to a church and added other buildings. It is believed that the Virgin Mary was born here and that it is close to the Bethesda pool where Christ performed miracles.

How Monument was dated:

The building is dated by historical sources such as the work of the historian Mujir al-Din al-Hanbali (d. 928 / 1521). The remaining part of an inscription above the entrance to the building has also helped in the dating process. The Gothic basilica-type architecture strongly suggests that the building is associated with the Crusader period.

Selected bibliography:

Al-'Asli, K., Ma'ahid al-'ilm fi Bait al-Maqdis [Institutes of Learning in Jerusalem], Amman, 1981.
Al-Hanbali, Mujir al-Din, Al-Uns al-Jalil bi Tarikh al-Quds wa al-Khalil [The Magnificent Ambiance in the History of Jerusalem and Hebron], Amman, 1973.
Hazbun, L., Kanisat Qaddisa Hannah (Salahiyya) wa Birkat Bait Hasida [The Church of St Ann (Hannah/Salahiyya) and the Bait Hasida Pool], Jerusalem, n.d.
Martin, S., “Al Kulliya al-Salahiyya: A late Ottoman University in Jerusalem”, in S. Auld and R. Hillenbrand (eds), Ottoman Jerusalem: The Living City 1517–1917 (Part I), London, 2000.
Al-Natsheh, Y., Kanisat al-Qaddisa Ann (al-Madrasa al-Salahiyya) [The Church of St Ann (Madrasa al-Salahiyya)], Jerusalem, 2004.

Citation of this web page:

Yusuf al-Natsheh "Madrasa al-Salahiyya" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2021. 2021.;ISL;pa;Mon01;33;en

Prepared by: Yusuf Al-Natsheh
Copyedited by: Majd Musa
Translation by: Amal Sachedina (from the Arabic).
Translation copyedited by: Mandi Gomez

MWNF Working Number: PA 33