It is a well known fact that Jerusalem has more to offer the Christian traveler in the way of sacred sites than most any other city in the world. However, it may be a less known fact that many of these sacred shrines are conveniently clustered together, making a tour to the Holy Land a particularly comfortable experience. One of the main clusters or centers of Christian sites is located in and around the Kidron Valley at the foot of the Mount of Olives, and consists of Mary’s Tomb, the Church of All Nations and the Garden of Gethsemane.
Of these holy sites, Mary’s Tomb is the one oft forgotten perhaps due to its relative simplicity in comparison with the awe inspiring Church of All Nations. Though forgotten at times, Mary’s tomb is one of the most architecturally fascinating sites in Jerusalem. Indeed Mary’s tomb is much more than just that, it is essentially a complex consisting of the tomb itself and three adjacent chapels. For the opportunity to visit these smaller chapels, otherwise missed by unsuspecting tourists, be sure not to overlook Mary’s Tomb when on your Christian tour to Israel.
Located inside a church which is itself situated in a cave fortress, Mary’s Tomb is as if embedded into the rocky front of Jerusalem’s Mount of Olives. The cave is entered via a staircase which, as it winds down to Mary’s Tomb, also leads to the Chapel of Saint Joseph—Jesus’s earthly father, and to the Chapel of Joachim and Anne—Mary’s parents.
Believed by the Eastern Orthodox Church to be the resting place of Jesus’ mother, the Church of Mary’s Tomb is currently shared by the Eastern Orthodox and Armenian denominations each having its own altar in it. Added to these altars the church also features a rather unlikely feature, a dent or niche in its southern wall known in Arabic a Mihrab. The Mihrab was built into the church wall intended to face the direction of Mecca and serve as a place of prayer for Muslims. This odd feature was installed by the Muslims in the days before religious segregation, when the Muslim community of Jerusalem enjoyed joint rights to the city’s Christian sites.
Mary's Tomb- Matters of Authenticity
Those on a Christian tour to the Holy Land may recall that the authenticity of Mary’s tomb has been a matter of ongoing debate for centuries. With the tomb dating back to around the 1 st century AD, then destroyed and rebuilt by the Franciscans in the 14 th century AD, all evidence of Mary’s body has been wiped out. It is therefore unclear whether Mary was in fact buried in that tomb and her body simply decayed, as a human body would, or whether she was never buried in this location or any other since she did not die a human death, but was rather ascended to the heaven—body and spirit together.
Another set of questions to do with the authenticity of Mary’s tomb comes from Modern day theologists who, rather than discuss the authenticity of Mary’s mortal death, simply assume that the Virgin did die a corporeal death and rather question the location in which she was buried. Many of these modern thinkers believe that Mary was not buried in the Kedron Valley, but instead hold that Mary was buried at Ephesus (near Jerusalem).
Whether questioning if this is the true location of Mary’s burial, or whether questioning whether or not Mary even died a mortal death, and finally, whether or not one comes to this site to pray or simply enjoy its historical significance, Mary’s tomb is a key destination for Christian tours to Israel.