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Tomb of the Virgin Mary

Tomb of the Virgin Mary

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Twelfth-century façade of Mary's Tomb
Outside view of the Tomb of Mary (right margin) and the tomb of Mujir ad-Din (center)
Plan and vertical cross-section of the site

Church of the Sepulchre of Saint Mary, also Tomb of the Virgin Mary, is a Christian tomb in the Kidron Valley – at the foot of Mount of Olives, in Jerusalem – believed by Eastern Christians to be the burial place of Mary, the mother of Jesus.[1] The Status Quo, a 250-year old understanding between religious communities, applies to the site.[2][3]


The Sacred Tradition of Eastern Christianity teaches that the Virgin Mary died a natural death (the Dormition of the Theotokos, the falling asleep), like any human being; that her soul was received by Christ upon death; and that her body was resurrectedon the third day after her repose, at which time she was taken up, soul and body, into heaven in anticipation of the general resurrection. Her tomb, according to this teaching, was found empty on the third day.

Roman Catholic teaching holds that Mary was "assumed" into heaven in bodily form, the Assumption; the question of whether or not Mary actually underwent physical death remains open in the Catholic view.

A narrative known as the Euthymiaca Historia (written probably by Cyril of Scythopolis in the 5th century) relates how the Emperor Marcian and his wife, Pulcheria, requested the relics of the Virgin Mary from Juvenal, the Patriarch of Jerusalem, while he was attending the Council of Chalcedon (451). According to the account, Juvenal replied that, on the third day after her burial, Mary's tomb was discovered to be empty, only her shroud being preserved in the church of Gethsemane. In 452 the shroud was sent to Constantinople, where it was kept in the Church of Our Lady of Blachernae (Panagia Blacherniotissa).[4]

According to other traditions, it was the Cincture of the Virgin Mary which was left behind in the tomb,[5] or dropped by her during Assumption.


In 1972, Bellarmino Bagatti, a Franciscan friar and archaeologist, excavated the site and found evidence of an ancient cemetery dating to the 1st century; his findings have not yet been subject to peer review by the wider archaeological community, and the validity of his dating has not been fully assessed.

Bagatti interpreted the remains to indicate that the cemetery's initial structure consisted of three chambers (the actual tomb being the inner chamber of the whole complex), was adjudged in accordance with the customs of that period. Later, the tomb interpreted by the local Christians to be that of Mary's was isolated from the rest of the necropolis, by cutting the surrounding rock face away from it. An edicule was built on the tomb.[6]

A small upper church on an octagonal footing was built by Patriarch Juvenal (during Marcian's rule) over the location in the 5th century; this was destroyed in the Persian invasion of 614. During the following centuries the church was destroyed and rebuilt many times, but the crypt was left untouched, as for Muslims it is the burial place of the mother of prophet Isa (Jesus). It was rebuilt then in 1130 by the Crusaders, who installed a walled Benedictine monastery, the Abbey of St. Mary of the Valley of Jehoshaphat; the church is sometimes mentioned as the Shrine of Our Lady of Josaphat. The monastic complex included early Gothic columns, red-on-green frescoes, and three towers for protection. The staircase and entrance were also part of the Crusaders' church. This church was destroyed by Saladin in 1187, but the crypt was still respected; all that was left was the south entrance and staircase, the masonry of the upper church being used to build the walls of Jerusalem. In the second half of the 14th century Franciscan friars rebuilt the church once more. The Greek Orthodox clergy launched a Palm Sunday takeover of various Holy Land sites, including this one, in 1757 and expelled the Franciscans.[7] The Ottomans supported this "status quo" in the courts.[8] Since then, the tomb has been owned by the Greek Orthodox Church and the Armenian Apostolic Church of Jerusalem, while the grotto of Gethsemane remained in the possession of the Franciscans.


The church[edit]

The rock-cut Tomb of Mary and its entrance, its front side covered in icons; eastern apse of the crypt
The stone bench on which the Virgin's body was laid out, now encased in glass

Preceded by a walled courtyard to the south, the cruciform church shielding the tomb has been excavated in a rock-cut cave[9] entered by a wide descending stair dating from the 12th century. On the right side of the staircase (towards the east) there is the chapel of Mary's parents, Joachim and Anne, initially built to hold the tomb of Queen Melisende of Jerusalem, the daughter of Baldwin II, whose sarcophagus has been removed from there by the Greek Orthodox. On the left (towards the west) there is the chapel of Saint Joseph, Mary's husband, initially built as the tomb of two other female relatives of Baldwin II.[10]

On the eastern side of the church there is the chapel of Mary's tomb. Altars of the Greeks and Armenians also own the east apse. A niche south of the tomb is a mihrab indicating the direction of Mecca, installed when Muslims had joint rights to the church. Currently the Muslims have no more ownership rights to this site. On the western side there is a Syriac altar.

The Armenian Patriarchate Armenian Apostolic Church of Jerusalem and Greek Orthodox Church of Jerusalem are in possession of the shrine. The Syriacs, the Copts, and the Ethiopians have minor rights.


A legend, which was first mentioned by Epiphanius of Salamis in the 4th century AD, purported that Mary may have spent the last years of her life in Ephesus. The Ephesians derived it from John's presence in the city, and Jesus’ instructions to John to take care of Mary after his death. Epiphanius, however, pointed out that although the Bible mentions John leaving for Asia, it makes no mention of Mary going with him.[11] The Eastern Orthodox Church tradition believes that Virgin Mary lived in the vicinity of Ephesus, where there is a place currently known as the House of the Virgin Mary and venerated by Catholics and Muslims, but argues that she only stayed there for a few years.

Although no information about the end of Mary's life or her burial are provided in the New Testament accounts, and many Christians believe that none exist in early apocrypha, some apocryphon are offered as supporting Mary's death (or other final fate). The Book of John about the Dormition of Mary, written in either the 1st, 3rd, 4th, or 7th century,[12][13] places her tomb in Gethsemene, as does the 4th century Treatise about the passing of the Blessed Virgin Mary.[13]

The pilgrim Antoninus of Piacenza, writing of travels in 560-570 CE, mentions in that valley was "the basilica of the Blessed Mary, which they say was her house; in which is shown a sepulchre, from which they say that the Blessed Mary was taken up into heaven."[14] Later, Saints Epiphanius of SalamisGregory of ToursIsidore of SevilleModestSophronius of JerusalemGerman of ConstantinopleAndrew of Crete, and John of Damascus talk about the tomb being in Jerusalem, and bear witness that this tradition was accepted by all the Churches of East and West.

Other claims[edit]

Turkmen Keraites believe, according to a Nestorian tradition that another tomb of the Virgin Mary is located in Mary, Turkmenistan a town originally named Mari. Others claim that Jesus and the Virgin Mary travelled to India after surviving the crucifixion, where they remained until the end of their lives. The authenticity of these claims is not academically established and has never merited any scholastic or academic research, nor canonical endorsement from the Holy See, nor anyone else.[15]

Another tradition exists among the Christians of Nineveh in northern Iraq, that the tomb of Mary is located near Erbil, linking the site to the direction of tilt of the former Great Mosque of al-Nuri minaret in Mosul.[16]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ What's A Mother To Do? at
  2. ^ UN Conciliation Commission (1949). United Nations Conciliation Commission for Palestine Working Paper on the Holy Places.
  3. ^ Cust, L. G. A. (1929). The Status Quo in the Holy Places. H.M.S.O. for the High Commissioner of the Government of Palestine.
  4. ^ Catholic Encyclopedia, Tomb of the Blessed Virgin Mary
  5. ^ Serfes, Father Demetrios (1 March 1999), Belt of the Holy Theotokos, archived from the original on 31 January 2010, retrieved 16 January 2010
  6. ^ Alviero Niccacci, "Archaeology, New Testament, and Early Christianity"Archived 2012-10-23 at the Wayback Machine, Studium Biblicum Franciscanum, Faculty of Biblical Sciences and Archaeology of the Pontifical University Antonianumin Rome
  7. ^ [1]
  8. ^ [2]
  9. ^ See Rock cut architecture.
  10. ^ Jerome Murphy-O'Connor (2008). The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide from Earliest Times to 1700. Oxford Archaeological Guides. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 149. ISBN 978-0-19-923666-4. Retrieved 16 September 2016.
  11. ^ Vasiliki Limberis, 'The Council of Ephesos: The Demise of the See of Ephesos and the Rise of the Cult of the Theotokos' in Helmut Koester, Ephesos: Metropolis of Asia (2004), 327.
  12. ^ Roberts, Alexander (1886). The Ante-Nicene Fathers: The twelve patriarchs, Excerpts and epistles, The Clementina, Apocrypha, Decretals, Memoirs of Edessa and Syriac documents, Remains of the first ages: Volume 8 of The Ante-Nicene Fathers: Translations of the Writings of the Fathers Down to A.D. 325. C. Scribner's Sons. p. 587. In two MMS. the author is said to be James the Lord's brother; in one, John Archbishop of Thessalonica, who lived in the seventh century.
  13. Jump up to:a b Herbermann, Charles George (1901). Catholic Encyclopedia. Encyclopedia Press. p. 774. the 'Joannis liber de Dormitione Marie' (third to fourth century), and the treatise 'De transitu B.M. Virginis' (fourth century) place her tomb at Gethsemane
  14. ^ Stewart, Aubrey; Wilson, CW, eds. (1896). Of the Holy Places Visited by Antoninus Martyr (Circ. 560-570 A.D.). London: Palestine Pilgrims' Text Society. p. 14. Retrieved 16 April 2019.
  15. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2006-09-27. Retrieved 2014-08-01.
  16. ^ Geary, Grattan (1878). Through Asiatic Turkey: narrative ofw a journey from Bombay to the Bosphorus, Volume 2. London: Sampson Low, Marston, Searle & Rivington. p. 88.

External links[edit]

 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainHerbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Tomb of the Blessed Virgin Mary" Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton.



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The Armenian word used for the Assumption, “Verapokhoum,” appears to mean, in modern Armenian, “change again.” However, in classical Armenian it means “transport up.”

After the Crucifixion, Jesus’ much loved disciple, the Apostle John, became the guardian and supporter of Mary, the Mother of God. The approval for it (John 19:26-17, cited above) must be taken as evidence that although Jesus was continually busy with His traveling and teachings, He really was concerned with the welfare of His dear mother.

Mary remained in Jerusalem and enjoyed the care and solicitude of all the apostles, but especially of John. Death came to her when she was about 50 years old.Assumption-of-St.-Mary

All the apostles were present at the burial except Bartholomew, who was not in the city or was possibly even out of the country. Mary had had a premonition that Bartholomew might be exceedingly distressed for being denied the opportunity of paying his last respects at her funeral. As a consequence, she gave a portrait of herself to the Apostle John to give to Bartholomew.

The portrait was in fact given to Bartholomew. Tradition has it that the Apostle Bartholomew, the first enlightener of the Armenians, took the portrait with him to Armenia, where because of persecutions he was obliged to hide it in a place called Darbnots Kar, in the province of Antsevatsyats. A convent was built on that same site, and the nuns there were to protect the portrait.

Back in Jerusalem, in spite of his having been especially favored with the gift of the portrait, Bartholomew was not satisfied. He insisted on going to the grave, and for a last time to be near the Mother of God. It is that event that gave rise to the greatest of feasts dedicated to the Holy Mother of God, the Tabernacle Feast of the Assumption.

The apostles were gathered in the cemetery, trying to satisfy Bartholomew’s demand. However, Mary was not there! The three days and nights of angelic songs and heavenly melodies had been for her in sleep, and not for her in death.

All churches of Christendom accept the doctrine that the body of the Mother of God was carried up into heaven – the Assumption.


During the early centuries, Mary as an archetype became a serious doctrinal issue being debated by newly formed religious communities.

However, as Christianity more and more became the state religion, ecumenical councils were being held to consider various doctrinal issues and arrive at a consensus on those doctrinal principles and beliefs.

Early in the 5th century a theologian from Antioch named Nestorius, who became Patriarch of Constantinople (428-431), claimed that Mary had given birth to an ordinary mortal, Jesus.

An ecumenical council (the third of such councils) was convened at Ephesus in the year 431 to deal with that and other doctrinal issues. The council, consisting of representatives from all the churches, including the Armenian Church, formally accepted and declared the doctrine that Mary was the Mother of God, object of reverence and worship.

Patriarch Nestorius was dethroned as a heretic and exiled to Egypt. From the beginning, the Armenian Church has recognized Mary as Mother of God, and has made its position known in that faith.

Many hundreds of churches have been built over the centuries and named after the Holy Virgin, or Mother of God.

As an example, in the Armenian world, though the Cathedral of the Catholicate of the Great House of Cilicia is named after St. Gregory the Enlightener, the chapel of its seminary, in the mountain city of Bikfaya, is named after the Holy Mother of God. Pilgrimages to that site take place each year on the feast day of the Assumption.

Today, in all centers where there is a large Armenian population, there will surely be a Church named after the Mother of God – Sourp Asdvadzadzin.

For Armenians she has been known as “Parekhos” (Intercessor) and “Amenorhnyal i Ganays” (Most Blessed of Women). The Armenian people have built special holy sites and chapels dedicated to her; they bear names as “Sirahayatse” (The Vision of Love), “Kaghtsrahayatse” (The Vision of Sweetness), “Partzrahayatse” (The Vision of Exaltation), “Khuntragadare” (The Grantor of Supplications, “Hokyats Diramayre” (The Mother of the Lord of Souls), “Charkhapane” (The Foiler of evil), etc.

With the Holy Mother of God being regarded as the special guardian of the female sex, Armenian mothers and girls have been particularly zealous in observing the abstinence prescribed for this religious feast.


As perfection of virtue in women and purity of love and spotlessness, the Holy Mother of God has become the ideal in the minds of females.

apindex244-oraziogentileschi_1565-1647_madonnaandchild_je-jpgEven in the earliest centuries, the reverence and supreme feeling of love shown in Armenian families for Mary have had their expression. That shows in the popular practice during the days of the Feast of Assumption of celebrating the name-days for those bearing the names Mariam, Marie, Maria, Marine, Maro, Mayranouysh, Maritza. Also included are the following names:

•Takouhi, Takoug: The queen, the pride, the love, the pinnacle of womanhood.

•Srpouhi, Srpoug, Sourpig: Sanctity of such a level to be worthy of bearing God the Son, through the Holy Spirit.

•Makrouhi: The spotless being of faith, love, unpretentiousness, sin­cerity and dedication.

•Isgouhi: Truly combining those spiritual virtues in a woman that gen­erations of training and teaching have sought to instill.

•Arpenig, Arevig: Being as necessary as the Sun for life; being an inseparable part of life and nature.

•Aghavni: Gentle as the bird that symbolizes peace, innocence, joy, and harmony in life.

•Margarit: Being sacred, spotless, priceless, and forever worthy like the Holy Virgin.

•Yeranouhi, Yeranik, Yeranyak (Yeranouhi – Blessed): Like the woman mentioned in the Gospel who blesses the one who gave birth to Jesus.

Apart from the names listed above are many more flattering names expressing similar noble qualities. All are appropriate to be celebrated, identifying persons to be congratulated during the occasions of pure and precious family gathering.

Azniv, Antaram, Arousyak, Arous, Lousine, Pergrouhi (Pergroug), Berjouhi, Berjoug, Yerchanig, Soultanig, Vergine,Lousaper, Lousarpi, Lousntak, Denchali, Dirouhi


An old tradition among Armenians, both beautiful and righteous, was for the first and best fruits to be given to God, in thanks and gratitude, when the harvest was ready.

If this devout practice existed in the era before Christianity, and its expression was to render to the gods, then that idea continued on to the present, but with this difference – it was directed to the church and through it to the needy.

We should point out that the Jews had a tradition of “First Fruits” being given to the temple.

The grape enjoyed preeminence among all fruits because it was the source of wine that is used in the Sacrament of the Divine Liturgy, in the Holy Communion, and in Holy Matrimony.

ASDVADZADZNI TAT (Mother of God Root)

During her childbearing labor the Mother of God held a root in her hand and was quickly relieved of pain. This root is soaked in water and the water is given to a woman in extended labor in order to mitigate her pain.

ASDVADZADZNI KAR (Mother of God Stone)

The Mother of God’s milk was so plentiful that the nursing infant Jesus was unable to consume it all. Therefore, Mary would go to a cave and release the excess milk to bring comfort to her breasts. According to tradition, the milk produced the friable clay-like stones which pilgrims visiting Jerusalem often bring back with them.

PSHATENI (Oleaster Tree)

Once John the Baptist happened to come upon Mary in the street. In order to hide from her (Jesus’) godfather, Mary went under a nearby oleaster tree and bent down some branches to cover herself. From that day on, the branches of the oleaster tree are bent downward.

ORIGIN OF THE CROCUS FLOWER (“Chiytem” or “Chiktam”)

When Mary was spreading egg yolk over unleavened bread, word came to her that her beloved Son had been betrayed and arrested. Without pausing to wash her hands she ran to learn about her son’s condition. Along the way thousands of flowers sprang up from the spots where drops of the yellow yoke had dripped from her hands. These flowers come up every year at Easter time, and are known as crocuses.


Gregory of Nareg had a burning desire to see the Mother of God with the infant Jesus on her lap. Once that view of his desires did appear to him from the little island that lay just opposite the chapel. Fascinated, he went over the water and knelt before the Mother of God, who spoke to him, saying, “Ar zDer ko, zor khuntreir” (to your Lord, according to your wish). From this, the island has been known by the name of “Ar- Der.”


When Christ’s mother and her sister, with heads bent over the grave of the Lord, were deeply mourning their great loss, devils (which in those times lived among the people and were visible) were seeking to attract the attention of the mourners and were banging on them. The Mother of God turned to them and said, “Anerevouyt linek” (be ye invisible). From that day on devils have been invisible to people.


MOTHER OF GOD IN INTERNATIONAL ART: Mary, Mother of God occupies a very important part of the most valuable works of art created by the world’s most famous and skilled painters: Botticelli, Leaonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Hovnatanian brothers, Toros Roslin, Sourenyants and others.

MOTHER OF GOD IN LITERATURE: Treatises, commentary, and other writings on the Mother of God, in countless languages, could fill a whole library.

The Armenian Church and its literature have also been endowed with a rich heritage of works on this subject. An extensive bibliographical reference list has been prepared by Tamar Dasnabedian. The list appears in the last three 1991 issues of the monthly “Hask,” published by the Catholicate of Cilicia; the title of the list of 283 works is “Tsutsak S. Asdvadzadzni Veraperyal Jareru.”

EPHESUS: Ancient Greek city of Asia Minor, on the western shore of Anatolia on the Aegean Sea. It has been important in all fields of endeavor. It was taken by the Turks from Byzantium in 1288; the inhabitants were annihilated. The city has been in ruins since 1391. Ephesus has been famous for the Temple of Artemis, one of the “Seven Wonders of the World.”

ANTSEVATSYATS: Region in the southwestern part of the Province of Vasburagan.

FIRST CENSUS OF AUGUSTUS CAESAR: The Evangelist has emphasized that this was the first population census, because ten years after Jesus’ birth there was a second census (Acts 5:37)

AGE TWELVE LAW: Jesus went to Jerusalem when He was twelve years of age, because Jewish males at the age of 12 became subject to the Law. It was obligatory to go to Jerusalem at Easter and submit to the canons on abstinence and prayer.

CANA: Small city in Galilee, about 5 miles from Nazareth. Mary was alone in Cana because Joseph had already died. The wedding at Cana took place during the first months of Jesus’ teachings.

PROPHET ISAIAH: Lived in Jerusalem during the 8th century B.C. Was the author of the Old Testament Book of the Prophet Isaiah, Chapters 1 to 33 and 36 to 39. The remaining chapters belong to a second prophet Isaiah who lived a century and a half after the first Isaiah.

MARY (also called Holy Virgin, Mother of God, Bearer of God (Theotokos, Gr.): These titles were given by decision of the Ecumenical Council. By the 4th century she was also called the “Unutterable Virgin.” Other names are Virgin Mary, Blessed Mary.

It should be mentioned here that the Roman Catholic Church made a number of important canonical declarations regarding the Mother of God in 1854, and in our own times in 1950 and 1964. In succession, they were declarations made “Ex Cathedra” of “Immaculate Conception,” belief in “Assumption bodily into Heaven,” and finally, “Mother of the Church” (by Pope Paul VI).

MEMORIAL DAY: With Assumption being a Tabernacle Feast, the following day, Monday, is Memorial Day. Divine Liturgy is performed in churches followed by visiting cemeteries to pray for the souls of those who have “fallen asleep.”

Courtesy of “Feasts of the Armenian Church and National Traditions” by Garo Bedrosian, 1993

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