Sacred Spaces: Church of the Sepulchre of St. Mary

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Located on the foothills of Jerusalem’s Mount Olives is the Church of the Sepulchre of St. Mary, also known as the Tomb of Virgin Mary.  Unlike other tombs, however, one will not find St. Mary’s remains in this location.  As she ascended into Heaven in bodily form, there would be no remains to be found.   

This underground rock-cut cave was originally cut in the first century and was later “[…]expanded into a cross-shaped church with the tomb in its center.”  In the sixth century, “[…]an octagon shaped church was built on the upper level, covering the tomb[,]” however this structure was soon destroyed in the Persian invasion.  The church was rebuilt in the eleventh century by the Crusaders.  That church was too destroyed and rebuilt by Franciscan friars in the fourteenth century.  

A wide staircase from the Crusader period leads down into the church and tomb.  On the way down, there is a small niche dedicated to Mary’s parents and, across from it, a niche dedicated to her husband, Joseph.  There is also a small edicule, bare but “richly decorated with Eastern Orthodox icons, candlesticks and flowers[.]”  In the crypt itself, “[t]he smell of incense fills the air, the ceiling is blackened by centuries of candle smoke, and gold and silver lamps hang in profusion.”

Today, the Church of the Sepulchre of St. Mary is under the possession of the Greek Orthodox Church but is also used by other Christian denominations.  It is also a holy location to Muslims as Muhammad is said to have seen “[…] a light over the tomb of his “sister Mary” during his Night Journey to Jerusalem.”

Tour the Church of the Sepulchre of St. Mary

The video below offers a wonderful tour of Church and tomb.   (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) | Church of St. Mary Magdalene (Jerusalem) | Church of St. John the Baptist (Jerusalem) | Church of the Annunciation (Nazareth)

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Mary’s Tomb –
Tomb of Mary –
Mount Olives and Church of the Tomb of the Virgin Mary, Jerusalem –
The Tomb of the Virgin Mary –
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