. . .to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. (Luke 1:27)
Hours: Monday – Saturday 6am to noon, 2:30pm to 5pm
The Tomb of the Virgin Mary is located at the base of the Mount of Olives. It is a Crusader-era church centered on a hollowed out quarry that could date back to the 1st century and could have been the tomb of Mary, the mother of Jesus. The Tomb of the Virgin Mary is a church made out of a cave. To light the visitors’ paths, there are many hanging lights and chandeliers.
There are steps from the road descending into a square courtyard. This courtyard contains the upper church, which is a portal from 1130 and a pointed archway supported by marble columns. Inside, there are more steps from a 12th century staircase. At the bottom of this descent is the tomb of Queen Melisande.
Queen Melisande died in 1161. Iron bars protect the tomb, and an arch adorned with a lily-bud motif stands nearby. Across from her own tomb is the vault tomb for the family of King Baldwin II (her son). Melisande’s tomb was not always at this location. Her body was moved in the 1300s to its current location. Her tomb is now identified with the Virgin Mary’s remains, as well.
The lower church is a Byzantine crypt, carved out of rock and full of beautiful Byzantine masonry. It is quite dark down there as the walls are blackened from centuries of smoke. However, the great room is exquisitely decorated with hanging lanterns and icons.
There is a built apse to the west and an apse hewn out of rock to the east. The east apse contains the Tomb of the Virgin Mary, marked by a small square chapel. It is similar to Jesus’ tomb in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
When the Muslims had joint rights to the Tomb of the Virgin Mary, they installed a mihrab showing the direction of Mecca . The mihrab is still in a small niche sound of the Tomb of the Virgin Mary. There are also Greek and Armenian altars in the east apse and an Ethiopian cistern and altar in the west apse.
An ancient tomb was isolated in Jerusalem by quarrying it out of the surrounding rock in 455. The earliest record of a church being built at the sight of the Tomb of the Virgin Mary was in the 6th century. However, the church built by Mauritius Tiberius was destroyed in the Persian invasion in 614.
A pilgrim named Arculf mentions visiting a church at the sight of the Tomb of the Virgin Mary in 680, so it must have been rebuilt by that time. His records show that the church had two levels, and they were both round. The top level had four alters, and the lower had an altar to the east and the Tomb of the Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus, to the west.
The Tomb of the Virgin Mary was again in ruins when the Crusaders visited. They endeavored to rebuild it in 1130 and also included a Benedictine monastery, calling it the “Abbey Church of St. Mary of Jehoshaphat.” The monastery had columns, frescoes and towers for protection. Queen Melisande was buried in the lower church in 1161.
Salah al-Din destroyed most of the upper church in 1187. The lower portion of the Tomb of the Virgin Mary, luckily, remained intact. The Franciscans then took over and now share it with the Greeks, Armenians, Syrians, Abyssinians, Copts and Muslims. The Tomb of the Virgin Mary is also respected by the Muslims because the Prophet Muhammad saw a light over the Tomb of the Virgin Mary during his Night Journey from Mecca to Jerusalem.