Located in the Valley of Jeoshaphat, at the bottom of Mount of Olives, the Church of Dormition was carved – in stone – over the site were for a short time, the Holy Virgin was buried. Across the street from the Church of Dormition is the Church of All Nations or the Church of Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane and, immediately near it was the Cave of Gethsemane.
Here, in the depths of the earth her holy body was placed, she who carried in her arms the Saviour of the universe! Here, in the village of Gethsemane, the apostles gathered at the edges of the earth to accompanied to the grave the Mother of Life! Here St. Thomas, arriving a bit later, has never found her precious body as it was lifted up into the heaven by her Son. Here, she had laid for a short time, the humble “handmaid of the Lord”, the most holy of all mothers, the cleanest of all virgins, the Mother of Life, the intercessor for the world, the comforter of all mothers, the supporter of virgins, the strengthener of the poor and the protector of monastics and of all Christians!
Why is it believed that the Tomb of the Virgin Mary was in Jerusalem?
According to the Holy Christian tradition, shortly after her burial, her body was raised up to heaven, not by its own power but by the power of our Lord Jesus Christ. Some strongly believe that Jerusalem is the place where the Holy Virgin Mary was buried, while others say that her burial place would be in Ephesus, the place where Saint John the Evangelist lived up until passing away in the Lord .
St. John the Evangelist took her in his care, when our Savior proclaimed to him on the Cross “Behold thy Mother”. She must had accompanied St John everywhere, but there was no testimony to indicate how long she stayed in Jerusalem and how long in Ephesus. Nothing it is said about the place where the Angel Gabriel announced her death.
The New Testament does not tell us about the death of the Blessed Virgin. However, the Tomb of Virgin Mary is described in many apocryphal books. Although not all are worthy of credence, some generalities are very apparent. ” The Dormition/Assumption of Mary ” dates back to the beginning of the II-nd century, after the latest research – the author had used as source, the tradition of the early church. This book can be considered a witness to the veneration of the place where the Virgin Mary was buried. According to this source, Jesus Himself would give instruction to the apostle Peter on the burial-place: ” the Garden of Gethsemane, outside the walls of Jerusalem, in the Valley of Jeoshaphat, acrossed from the river Chedron. “
According to the “Acts of the Apostle John – the Evangelist”, written by Prohor and composed by Lencius in 160-170, St. John the Evangelist been of an old age went to Ephesus accompanied only by Prohor and, this happened after the death of Mary. In the two letters addressed by St. Ignatius to Saint John and discovered around the year 370, it is mentioned that the Holy Virgin has spent her last days in Jerusalem. Another letter of Dionysius the Areopagite to the Bishop Titus (363), the writings of St. John on Mary’s Assumption (V century) and “The Book of the Blessed Virgin Mother of God” by Meliton of Sardes (V – VI centuries) indicate as the place for the tomb, the Garden of Gethsemane.
The Holy Fathers also speak on “the grave of the Virgin” as been located in Jerusalem. A historical work, “Euthymiaca historia “, describes the moment when the Byzantine Emperor Marcian (450 -457) and his wife Pulheria asked the Patriarch of Jerusalem, at the Fourth Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon (451), for the relics of the Theotokos. The Patriarch Juvenal answered, ” three days after sleep, the body of the Holy Virgin was raised up to heaven, and the Tomb in the Garden of Gethsemane bares only her Veil”, which was then taken to the Church of Blachernae in Constantinople (today’s capital of Turkey, Istambul).
St. Epiphanius of Salamis (403) is the first to talk about the Dormition of the Virgin, showing that St. John the Evangelist went to Ephesus alone. In the next century, Gregory of Tours, Isidore of Seville, Saint Modest, St Sophronie of Jerusalem, St. Herman of Constantinople, St. Andrew of Crete, Saint John Damascene and others fathers have spoken about the existence of the Virgin’ Tomb in Jerusalem.
The Tomb of Our Lady in Jerusalem – History
Archaeological works bring testimony to what was mentioned above. The existence of an ancient Christian basilica dedicated to the Dormition of the Virgin, along the river valley Chedron also called the Valley of Jeoshaphat in Hebrew is very important. The Tomb of Virgin Mary was situated in the north side of the Garden of Gethsemane, deep down an underground gallery carved in stone. Moreover, St. Helena – the mother of Emperor Constantine – had built a church over it between the years 325-337.
A chapel was built by Patriarch Juvenal at the beginning of the fifth century, which soon had become a center for pilgrimage. During the emperor Maurice the upper basilica was built and the old sanctuary became the Tomb of the Virgin Mary. In 614, the church was destroyed by the Persians, together with other Christian churches in Palestine. But the Basilica was rebuilt soon after, as it is testified by the visit of pilgrim Arkulf in 670.
In the eleventh century, the crusaders erected another church which is partially preserved today.
In 1187, the church is destroyed by Saladin, and everything that is left, is the southern entrance and the staircase that descended to the grave. Its constant destruction, have made the initial basilica to sink slowly, been left without natural light today.
Starting with 1757, the Tomb of the Virgin Mary was taken into the care of the Greek Orthodox Church. Archaeological excavations from 1972 had confirmed that the grave was part of a Christian cemetery dating from the first century and that its original structure with three rooms, corresponds to the technique used during that period.
Descending down the middle gallery towards the Tomb, one can see two small chapels, one on each side of the stairway. On the right is the chapel of the Saints Joachim and Anne – the parents of the Holy Virgin having an altar for worship, and on the left side is the chapel of the righteous Joseph, the Virgin protector, both been mentioned starting with the XIV century.
The Tomb of the Virgin is carved into a white stone. It is well-known for the shape that her holy body left in the rock. Over this stone a small altar was built where the Divine Liturgy is offered daily.
A miracle-working icon of the Virgin of Jerusalem lies behind her Tomb. But this is not the only miracle-working icon found here. On August 15 (new calendar) the Orthodox Church celebrates the Dormition of the Virgin. The Orthodox miracle-working icon of the Dormition, which is preserved near the Holy Sepulchre (the Holy Tomb of our Lord) is brought out on August 10 in great procession. The icon remains at the Tomb of the Virgin until August 16, when it is taking back to Jerusalem.
On the Dormition of Virgin – a word from the ” Prologs”
When our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, have deemed to take His Holy Mother, three days before her passing she was visited by an angel of God (Gabriel), announcing her passing from this earth to the heavenly joy. The Holy Theotokos, received the news with great joy and went to the Mount of Olives to pray .
Then returning to her home, she prepared for the burial, entrusting her neighbors that, by moving into heaven, not only they will not be forgotten but she will seek out and protect the whole world. Then she divided her garments among poor widows, had asked forgiveness from all and lying down, she prayed for the strengthening and the peace of all. And blessing everyone present, she gave her soul into the hands of her Son. And many healings took place by her blessing.
Then it was a great thunder and a miracle in the sky – that all the apostles of Christ came from around the world to Mary’ house in Jerusalem. And Peter began to sing the burial chant, and all the apostles raised her bed and accompanied her body to the grave. Arriving in the village of Gethsemane to bury her body, the apostles remained there for three more days waiting on the Apostle Thomas that was missing.
When the Apostle Thomas returned he was sadden for not been made worthy to see the fallen asleep of the Virgin, with the other Apostles. And they opened the Tomb of the Virgin that he may also see. And behold, a great wonder, the body of the Virgin was not found but only her precious shroud was left behind, as a consolation and a moving testimony that her body was lifted up into heaven.
The Mother of God and our Mother with her body undefiled, alive and glorified, was raised into heaven, thus becoming the first among us to be resurrected from the dead as a leverage to all mankind. But unlike our Lord and Savior’ Resurrection, she was taken to heaven by the angels and not by her own power. It is from heaven that she prays unceasingly for us. Let us have great confidence in her prayers and let us honor and venerate her as she is the first that can intercede to her Son for us. Glory of our Lord and Saviour in the highest. Amin!
(Translated by the blog’ author)