Mary's Tomb is a tomb located in the Kidron Valley, on the foothills of Mount of Olives, near the
Church of All Nations and Gethsemane garden, originally just outside Jerusalem. It is regarded as the
burial place of Mary, the mother of Jesus by most Eastern Christians (many of whom refer to her as
Theotokos), in contradistinction to the House of the Virgin Mary near Ephesus. Her remains are
not in the tomb though as it is believed that she was assumed bodily into heaven.
Repairs necessitated by a flood in 1972 afforded the opportunity for archaeological investigation of
the site. Bellarmino Bagatti, a franciscan friar and controversial archaeologist, performed the
excavation, and found evidence of an ancient cemetery, which he dated 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.
A small upper church on an octagonal footing was built by Patriarch Juvenal (during Marcian's rule)
over the location in the 5th century, and 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 the Muslims it is the burial place of the mother of prophet Isa. 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 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.
Since 1757, it has been owned by the Greek Orthodox Church.
The Church --
Preceded by a walled courtyard to the south, the cruciform church shielding the tomb has been
excavated in an underground rock-cut cave entered by a wide descending stair dating from the 12th
century. On the left side of the staircase (towards the west) there is the chapel of Saint Joseph,
Mary's husband, while on the right (towards the east) there is the chapel of Mary's parents, Joachim
and Anne, holding also the tomb of Queen Melisende of Jerusalem.
On the eastern side of the church there is the chapel of Mary's tomb. Altars of the Greeks and
Armenians also share 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. On the western side there is a Coptic
The Greek Orthodox Church of Jerusalem is in possession of the shrine, sharing it with the Armenian
Apostolic Church. The Syriacs, the Copts, and the Abyssinians have minor rights. Muslims also have a
special place for prayer (the mihrab).
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 resurrected on 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; however, most theologians
believe that she did undergo death before her Assumption.
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.
According to another tradition it was the Cincture of the Virgin Mary which was left behind in the
The Eastern Orthodox Church acknowledges that Virgin Mary lived in the vicinity of Ephesus, in a
place currently known as the House of the Virgin Mary and venerated by Christians and Muslims, but
argues that she only stayed there for a few years; this teaching is based on the writings of the Holy
Although many Christians believe that no information about the end of Mary's life or her burial are
provided in the New Testament accounts or early apocrypha, there are actually over 50 apocryphon
about Mary's death (or other final fate). The 3rd century Book of John about the Dormition of Mary
places her tomb in Gethsemene, as does the 4th century Treatise about the passing of the Blessed
The Breviarius of Jerusalem, a short text written in about AD 395, mentions in that valley the
basilica of Holy Mary, which contains her sepulchre. Later, Epiphanius of Salamis, Gregory of Tours,
Isidore of Seville, Saint Modest, Sophronius of Jerusalem, German of Constantinople, Andrew of Crete,
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.