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 * La tomba
     di Maria

Tomb of the Virgin Mary
(in Jerusalem)

edifice on tomb of mary

After crossing the Brook of Kidron, the first monument we see on the left at the foot of the Mount of Olives is the Church of the Assumption erected upon the tomb that received the mortal remains of the Blessed Virgin. From this Tomb she was taken into heaven, for not being subject to the yoke of sin she bore not the consequences of sin, which are the corruption of the flesh. Therefore, she only went through the tomb but did not delay there; her tomb became the shrine of her glorious Assumption into Heaven.

That Mary, at the end of her earthly existence, was assumed into heaven, was defined as an article of faith, on Nov. 1, 1950.

About the death and assumption of Mary into heaven is described in the apocryphal writing "The transition of the Virgin" or "Dormition" of Mary. The author of this work gathers the traditions on the infant church since the apostolic era. The book contains many symbolic references typical of the Jewish-Christian community. It is for this reason that this book had for long been discarded completely. But the book gives witness to the veneration since the second century when the site was used transformed into a sanctuary.

The first church, a countryside chapel, was built some time about the beginning of the fifth century and consecrated by the Patriarch of Jerusalem Juvenal (422-458) just after the Council of Calcedon (431). Thereafter a new Church was built over the tomb of Mary which thus became the crypt in which was venerated the Tomb of the Virgin.

The upper church was completely destroyed before the arrival of the Crusaders. When the Crusaders arrived they found only a little edicule over the Tomb.

Godfrey de Bouillon built a monastery here, the well known Abbey of St. Mary of the Valley of Jehoshaphat for the Benedictines of Cluny, to whose care he entrusted the Church. The Crusaders rebuilt the Church about the year 1130. This upper church was again destroyed together with the monastery by Saladin after 1187. The Muslims respected the crypt for the veneration towards the "Holy Mother of prophet Jesus" but nonetheless used the masonry of the upper church to build the walls of Jerusalem.

The ruin of the sacred monument would nonetheless have been inevitable, mainly because of the floods that continuously damaged it, had not the Franciscans entered into possession of the Church in the second half of the fourteenth century. From that time the Franciscans saw to the upkeep of the building, defraying the expenses of many important restorations. The Sons of St. Francis had the exclusive and peaceful possession of the tomb of the Blessed Virgin for more than two hundred years, until the seventeenth century, when began the intrigues and violence to expel from this shrine the representatives of the Catholic Church and those of the Latin rite. After various vicissitudes, the definitive usurpation took place in 1757 and has never since been repaired. At present Catholics, in protest, do not hold services in the Sanctuary where even the Moslems have a special place for their prayers. The Latins in fact may celebrate officially in the sanctuary three times a year, including on 15th August, the feast of the Assumption. Since 1757 the Greek Orthodox rite have enjoyed the possession of the venerable shrine which they share with the Armenians. The Syrians, the Copts, and the Abyssinians have minor rights.

The floods of 1972 made it possible for the archaeologists not only to clear the area but also to have the area around the crypt excavated. These excavations were carried out by the late Fr. Bellarmino Bagatti. He concluded, from the excavations, that the tradition of Mary's tomb in the valley of Johosaphat is clearly marked in a cemetery in use during the first century. Furthermore the tomb itself, originally made up of three chambers, was dug out with the same techniques used in tombs of the first century, like the Holy Sepulchre and the Kings' tombs. The actual tomb was the inner chamber of the whole complex. These archaeological findings, corroborated by literary documents (Palestinian, Syrian, Ethiopian and Greek) of the II-IV centuries together with the constant liturgical devotion are witness to the belief about the tomb of Mary next to Gethsemani since the beginning of the Christian era. It is from these far away origins that comes the celebration of the feast of the Assumption on August 15 since the infant Church, at this tomb, solemnly celebrated the feast of the Assumption of Mary.

The actual façade of the edifice on Mary's tomb is the Crusader's austere and solemn construction. A long stairway, on whose flanks the wife of Baldwin III and the mother or Boemondo III (prince of Antioch) were buried, leads down towards the tomb of Mary. Here too was buried queen Melisanda, first daughter of Baldwin II, king of Jerusalem who was given in marriage to Folco d'Angiò. Suspected of adultery by her husband she had to suffer greatly. On the death of her husband she ruled the Latin Kingdom until the age of adulthood of her son Baldwin III whence she retired to Nablus dedicating her life in charitable deeds.

CLICK ON IMAGES TO SEE A LARGER PICTURE
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Stairs leading to the tomb Doorway to the tomb The Edicule on the tomb
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The empty tomb The fašade Plan of the area

THE FRIARS IN PILGRIMAGE AT THE SHRINE
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Created / Updated Friday, March 25, 2005 at 19:48:48 by J. Abela, E. Alliata, E. Bermejo
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