Sacred Spaces: Church of St. Mary Magdalene (Jerusalem)

church of st. mary magdalene

Photo by Юкатан. Via Wikimedia Commons.

On the western slope of Jerusalem’s Mount Olives stands a beautifully ornate church built in the 17th century Russian style: the Church of St. Mary Magdalene.

The church was built in 1888 by Czar Alexander III in memory of his mother, whose patron saint was Mary Magdalene.  St. Mary Magdalene “[…] was one of the few persons named in the Gospels as being present at Christ’s crucifixion and who was the first recorded witness of his Resurrection.”

The church features seven glittering “onion” domes (essential to the Muscovite style) and an intricate white sandstone facade (which is often confused with marble).  “Above the entrance a circular blue mosaic medallion depicts Mary Magdalene robed in white.”

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Inside the Church of St. Mary Magdalene is a beautiful bronze and white marble iconostasis.  There are icons by famous Russian artist Sergei Ivanov depicting the four Evangelists, archangel Gabriel, and the Mother of God as well as the life of Mary Magdalene.  There is a famous icon above the iconostasis illustrating the story where Mary Magdalene presents Emperor Tiberius with a red egg (which symbolizes the Resurrection) and tells the emperor of Jesus’ unjust trial and sentence.

“To the right side of the iconostasis, a 16th-century icon of the Virgin Mary in a hand-carved wooden case has a place of honour. The icon is said to have miraculous powers.”  This icon is originally from Lebanon in the 16th century.  It had survived a fire that destroyed the church in which the icon hung and is said to have healed many during a cholera outbreak.

A sarcophagus sits on each side of the church’s nave; the bodies of Grand Duchess Elizabeth and Sister Barbara.  Both women were canonized by the Orthodox Church as martyrs.  The remains of Princess Alice of Greece (mother of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh) are also buried in the crypt below the church.  It was the princess’s wish to be buried near her aunt (Grand Duchess Elizabeth).

Today, thirty nuns from around the world live in the convent of the Church of St. Mary Magdalene.  They are best-known for their hand-painted eggs, but also make beautiful embroidered vestments, prayer ropes, bookmarks, icons, and other crafts.

Tour the Church of St. Mary Magdalene

The video below offers a marvelous tour of the Church of St. Mary Magdalene. (Click here to view directly on YouTube).

Sacred Spaces Blog Series

Want to learn more about the world’s most unique and fascinating sacred spaces? Follow the links below to other pieces from our Sacred Spaces blog series!

Basilica di San Marco (Venice) | St. Issac’s Cathedral (St. Petersburg) | Monastery of the Kiev Caves (Kiev) | St. Nicholas Naval Cathedral (St. Petersburg) | The Duomo (Florence) | The Hagia Sophia (Istanbul) | Cathedral of St. Sophia (Novgorod) | Church of Our Savior on  Spilled Blood (St. Petersburg) | The Church of the Ascension (Kolomenskoye) | St. Basil’s Cathedral (Moscow) |The Churches of Kizhi Pogost | Monastery of Panagia Elona | Smolny Cathedral (St. Petersburg) | Agios Stefanos (Syros Island) | Church of the Intercession on the Nerl | The Rock Churches of Matera | The Monastery of St. John the Theologian (Patmos) | Durham Cathedral | Church of the Sign (Dubrovitsy) | Church of the Holy Sepulchre (Jerusalem)

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