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Holy Land during Mary's Life

Holy Land during Mary's Life

The Holy Land: In the Footsteps of Mary of Nazareth

– Sister Danielle Peters


With the following presentation the attempt has been made to trace all places which according to tradition, legends and popular piety are in some way connected to the life of the Blessed Virgin Mary. From the outset it is important to note that the apocryphal texts, as well as the legends, customs, and visions referred to in this presentation are in no way authoritative in terms of the historically verifiable proof that Mary visited or lived there. Rather these are traditions which have been preserved and celebrated by Catholic Churches of the East and West as well as visions revealed to three women: Brigit of Sweden (1303-1373), Maria of Agreda (1602-1665) and Ann Catherine Emmerich (1774-1824).

There are very few texts about the life of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the New Testament. We do not even know where she was born. On July 26 the Catholic Church celebrates the parents of Mary and calls them Anne and Joachim in accordance with the Protogospel of St. James (PGJ). Again there exists no historical evidence, however, of any elements of their lives, including their names. The legend told in PGJ relates that after years of childlessness, an angel appeared to tell Anne and Joachim that they would have a child. Anne promised to dedicate this child to God (much the way that Samuel was dedicated by his mother Hannah -- Anne -- in 1 Kings).

Likewise, the Catholic Church on November 21 commemorates the Presentation of Mary in the Temple. Many of the early church Fathers such as St. Germanus, Patriarch of Constantinople and St. John Damascene, his contemporary, preached magnificent homilies on this feast referring to Mary as that special plant or flower which was being nurtured for better things. "She was planted in the House of God, nourished by the Holy Spirit and kept her body and soul spotless to receive God in her bosom. He Who is all-holy rests among the holy." In the Byzantine Church this feast is considered one of the twelve great feasts of the liturgical year, called the Dodecaorton.

Other places of Mary’s life can be verified through the Gospels as, for example, Nazareth or Bethlehem whereby the latter is still disputed among Bible scholars as the birth place of Jesus.

The main source for this presentation is the work of Otto Friedrich August Meinardus. Das Heilige Land: auf den Spuren Marias von Nazaret. Frankfurt am Main, Josef Knecht 1998. The author spent many years in the topographical area of the Holy Land. Besides the Scriptures and PGJ he also refers to other apocrypha such as the gospels of pseudo Matthew and of Thomas as well as the Armenian and Arab Infancy Gospels. Furthermore, Meinardus considers the vision of St. Theophilus from the fourth century who was the twenty-third Patriarch of Alexandria and successor of St. Mark. Other sources are the Coptic and Ethiopian Synaxaria (calendars of the saints) as well as medieval texts from pilgrims to the Holy land and of church historians.

A spiritual cyber pilgrimage to the origins of our faith may inspire us to preserve our precious heritage and to pass it on to future generations.

I. Wâdî Qilt

In the Protogospel of James (PGJ) we read that Joachim and Anna, an exceedingly rich couple, were left childless.

And Joachim called to mind the patriarch Abraham that in the last day God gave him a son Isaac. And he was exceedingly grieved, and did not come into the presence of his wife; but he retired to the desert, and there pitched his tent, and fasted forty days and forty nights …(PGJ 1:3f). … And an angel of the Lord went down to him, saying: Joachim, Joachim, the Lord God hath heard thy prayer Go down hence; for, behold, thy wife Anna shall conceive (PGJ 4:2).

(Bridge across Wâdi Qilt at St George's Monastery)

According to medieval Greek-Orthodox tradition Joachim retired to Wâdî Qilt located in the desert between Jerusalem and Jericho. From the old Roman road connecting Jerusalem with Jericho delineates a steep path to Wâdî Qilt known also as the Valley of Achor (Jos 7:26; "Achor" meaning "trouble") where Joshua had Achan executed (Jos 7:10ff). In accordance with religious tradition Joachim stayed in the same cave where the prophet Elija hid and was nourished by ravens (1 Kings 17:3f.). In Elija’s Cave Church wall paintings of Joachim and Anna can still be seen.

And Joachim’s wife Anna mourned … and lamented … saying: … I shall bewail my childlessness. … And gazing towards the heaven, she saw a sparrow's nest in the laurel, … And, behold, an angel of the Lord stood by, saying: Anna, Anna, the Lord hath heard thy prayer, and thou shalt conceive, and shall bring forth, and thy seed shall be spoken of in all the world. And Anna said, As the Lord my God liveth, if I beget either male or female, I will bring it as a gift to the Lord my God, and it shall minister to Him in holy things all the days of its life PGJ 2ff).

At the entrance of Wâdî Qilt a two-room cave is located. Beduins and shepherds of this area named it “Dair al-Banat” which is rendered Cloister of Virgins. They maintain that it was here – that the virgin Anna and wife of Joachim thanked God that she had conceived a child.

II. Pool of Bethesda

(Excavations of the Pool of Bethesda)

And Anna’s months were fulfilled, and in the ninth month Anna brought forth. And she said to the midwife: What have I brought forth? and she said: A girl. And said Anna: My soul has been magnified this day. And she laid her down. And the days having been fulfilled, Anna was purified, and gave the breast to the child, and called her name Mary (PGJ 5:3).

Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades (Jn 5:2).

The shepherd Joachim (PGJ 4:3f) was familiar with this sight. Near the Sheep Gate was also a grotto which was used as a maternity grotto and which later became the crypt of St. Anna Church.

(Pool of Bethesda)

According to Christian tradition, the Virgin Mary was born in a cave near the Bethesda Pool where her Son Jesus would one day perform miracles. In accordance with an old tradition which coincides with the customs of that time Mary was about fifteen years old when she gave birth to Jesus Christ in 7 BC. Hence Mary was born around 22 BC. Coptic tradition holds that Mary was born on a Sunday, the 1 Baschons (May 9), and that she stayed with her parents for the following two years, seven months and seven days.

Already in the third century a small Marian chapel was built at the Pool of Bethesda. During the fifth century Empress Eudokia (348-460) ordered the erection of a Marian Basilica enshrining the chapel. In the sixth century Theodosius (ca 530) mentioned a Church honoring the Blessed Virgin Mary near the miraculous and healing waters of the Sheep Gate. This fact was confirmed by an anonymous pilgrim from Piacenza (570). At the beginning of the seventh century the Patriarch of Jerusalem Sophronius (634-638) refers in a song to Prohatike (Sheep Gate) “where St. Ann gave birth.” This reference was taken up by the crusaders who sponsored by Queen Alda, wife of King Baldiun I, erected a church honoring St. Ann in the year 1150.

When in 1187 Jerusalem was ransacked by Salah ad-Din the church was converted into a Qu’ran School and named Salahiyeh. During the Moslem occupation of Israel, Christian pilgrims had to pay a fee in order to be permitted inside the grotto. Probably the finest example of Crusader architecture in the Land of Israel, St. Ann's Church possesses amazing acoustics which make even a solitary melodic prayer pervade one’s being.

Around 1550 the Franciscans were permitted to celebrate holy mass in the crypt on the feast of Mary’s nativity. Already at the end of the sixth century the feast of Mary’s nativity was commemorated on September 8 which determined December 8 for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.

(Church of St. Anne)

After the Krim war Napoleon III asked for the Church of St. Ann in exchange for the French assistance during the war. Thereupon the French government had the church restored (1877-1878) and the White Fathers were entrusted with its custody.

What first strikes the visitor to St Ann's Church is its simplicity, both within the unadorned interior and on the clear clean lines of its facade. Yet there is also a sense of majesty, perhaps lent by the church's stark cross-vaulted ceilings and giant pillars. Stone steps descend to the crypt below the church, where an altar is dedicated to Mary and the ancient rock has been beautifully incorporated into the shrine.

III. The Temple of Jerusalem

And the child was three years old, and Joachim said: Invite the daughters of the Hebrews that are undefiled, and let them take each a lamp, and let them stand with the lamps burning, that the child may not turn back, and her heart be captivated from the temple of the Lord. And they did so until they went up into the temple of the Lord. And the priest received her, and kissed her, and blessed her, saying: The Lord has magnified thy name in all generations. In thee, on the last of the days, the Lord will manifest His redemption to the sons of Israel. And he set her down upon the third step of the altar, and the Lord God sent grace upon her; and she danced with her feet, and all the house of Israel loved her.

And her parents went down marveling, and praising the Lord God, because the child had not turned back. And Mary was in the temple of the Lord as if she were a dove that dwelt there, and she received food from the hand of an angel. (PGJ 7:2ff – 8:1)

The Protogospel of James situates Mary’s birth in Jerusalem so that her presentation in the temple at age three could occur in the same vicinity. Mary’s presentation in the temple can be paralleled to that of the prophet Samuel. His mother Hannah, who like Anna was also thought to be barren, offered him as a gift to God at Silo (1 Sam 24). The text of the Protogospel of James relates the event when Mary was brought to the temple as a hitherto unheard of gesture since there were no temple virgins in Jerusalem at that time. Mary stayed in the temple until her twelfth year, the beginning of her puberty and her Bath-Mizva. According to Coptic tradition, her father Joachim died when Mary was six years old and her mother when Mary was eight.

(Presentation of the Virgin in the Temple, Heiko Schlieper - 1999)

The Coptic Synaxar (Liturgical Calendar) celebrates the feast of Mary’s Presentation in the Temple on December 12. Already in the eighth century the Byzantine orthodox rite commemorated the event of Mary’s Presentation in the Temple called Eisodos on November 21. The French diplomat, Philipp de Maizières (1327-1405), was acquainted with the feast while in Cypress and introduced it to Pope Gregor XI who at that time resided in Avignon (1370-78). In 1585 Pope Sixtus V introduced the feast in the Liturgical calendar.

Among the Greek Orthodox Church in the Near East the feast of Mary’s Presentation in the Temple is called Panagia Mesoporitissa (mésos = half; spóros = seed) since on that day a variety of seeds are cooked and served. Those seeds which are sewn before November 21 sprout after a few days; those sewn after November 21 germinate only after forty days. It is assumed that this custom dates back to one of the oldest pre-Christian traditions.

IV. Mary’s Engagement in Jerusalem

While Mary was in the temple of the Lord, she was fed like a dove and received food from the hand of an angel. When she turned twelve, a group of priests took counsel together, saying, "Look, Mary has been in the temple of the Lord twelve years. What should we do about her now, so that she does not defile the sanctuary of the Lord our God?" And they said to the high priest, "You have stood at the altar of the Lord. Go in and pray about her. And if the Lord God reveals anything to you, we will do it."

And the priest went in taking the vestment with twelve bells into the holy of holies and prayed about her. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord stood before him, saying, "Zachariah, Zachariah, depart from here and gather the widowers of the people and let each one carry a staff. And the one whom the Lord God points out with a sign, she will be his wife." So the heralds went out to the whole surrounding area of Judea and the trumpet of the Lord rang out and all the men rushed in.

Throwing down his ax, Joseph went out to meet them. And after they had gathered together with their rods, they went to the high priest. After receiving everyone's rod, the high priest went into the temple and prayed. When he was finished with the prayer, he took the rods and went out and gave them to each man, but there was no sign among them. Finally, Joseph took his rod. Suddenly, a dove came out of the rod and stood on Joseph's head. And the high priest said, "Joseph! Joseph! You have been chosen by lot to take the virgin into your own keeping."

And Joseph replied, saying, "I have sons and am old, while she is young. I will not be ridiculed among the children of Israel."

And the high priest said, "Joseph, fear the Lord your God and remember what God did to Dathan and Abiron and Kore, how the earth split open and swallowed them because of their rebellion. Now fear God, Joseph, so that these things do not happen in your house."

Fearing God, Joseph took her into his own possession. And he said to her, "Mary, I took you from the temple of the Lord and now I bring you into my house. I am going out to build houses, but I will come back to you. The Lord will protect you." (PGJ 8:2 - 9:11)

The story of the choice of Joseph as Mary’s spouse is reminiscent of the Old Testament Book of Numbers. There we read that among the twelve staffs the staff of Aaron from the House of Levi began to blossom (Num 17:20). The staff was an indication of the dignity of a family and was usually carried by the leader of the clan.

(Raphael. Marriage of the Virgin. 1504. Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan, Italy)

In accord with Jewish law Mary was juridically married to Joseph; it is assumed however that she remained in her parental home until she was about twelve and a half years old. A clear distinction was made between the engagement and the married state. The latter began when the bridegroom has taken his bride into his home (see: Dt 20:7). Although the states of being engaged and of being married were distinguished by law, they often were considered identical since the engaged couple had rights and duties which were equal to those of a married couple.

The Protogospel of James as well as the Gospel according to Matthew (1:20) mention that Joseph took Mary into his house. From the context of both texts it is evident that Joseph’s house was in Nazareth and not in Jerusalem. Joseph’s house is not the house in which the Annunciation took place (cf. Mt 1:18) and where she returned after having served her cousin Elizabeth (Lk 1:56). It is not clear where the Holy Family lived after their return from Egypt. Theoretically it could have been either one of the two houses or a third one. There is no indication in the Bible.

From the sixth century on, the Annunciation was believed to have taken place in Nazareth. According to medieval rendering Joseph and Mary lived in this house which became St. Gabriel Church. It was there that Mary was greeted by the angel when she fetched water from the well. The official Greek orthodox name of the Church of the Annunciation is kenîset al-bishâra though the inhabitants of Nazareth like to call it bêt Marjam (House of Mary).

In 1914 Franciscans built a church honoring St. Joseph on the north side of the basilica of the Annunciation and of the Terra Santa College which they consider the site of the workshop of St. Joseph.

V. Nazareth

"And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, to a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin's name was Mary.... And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favor with God. And behold, thou shall conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shall call his name Jesus". (Lk 1:26-30)

The gospel stories about Nazareth clearly distinguish Mary’s house from that of Joseph. According to Matthew 1:18 Mary lived in her home when she conceived from the Holy Spirit. Only after their engagement did Joseph take Mary home as his wife (1:24). Matthew does not mention the name of the city where the Annunciation occurred. Only after the return of the Holy Family from Egypt does he mention Nazareth as the town where they lived (Mt 2:23). Luke, on the other hand, writes that the angel appeared to Mary in Nazareth (1:26).

(Area view of Nazareth)

A town in southern Galilee about fifteen miles southwest of the Sea of Galilee (kineret) and twenty miles from the Mediterranean westward in the basin of the hills of the lower Galilee. In Biblical time Nazareth was a small agricultural town settled by a few dozen families. A prophet, king or priest were not expected to ever come out of Nazareth. This prompted the response of Nathaniel in John 1:46 "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" Nazareth was isolated in ancient times because no trade routes ran through the city and therefore had no economical value.

The origin of the name Nazareth is still not clear. In Hebrew the word "Nazir" - Nazarite - means monk, a person who was dedicated to special sacred service through a vow made by the person himself or by his parents, which could last a lifetime or for a limited period. The early name "Nazarenes" given to early Christians, might have been a derogatory name that the people of Judea gave to the followers of Jesus (Matthew 26:71, Acts 6:38). Many scholars today think that the name Nazareth comes from the Hebrew word "Netzer" (Branch) as prophesied by Isaiah that Savior will come from the branches (roots) of King David.

Two churches in Nazareth claim to be built on the site of Mary’s home The Greek-Orthodox church of St. Gabriel with Mary’s well, Ain Sittna Mariam; and the Latin rite Basilica of the Annunciation.

The Greek-Oorthodox base their tradition on the statement of Protogospel of James “And she took the cup and went out to fill it with water. Suddenly, a voice said to her,

And she took the cup and went out to fill it with water. Suddenly, a voice said to her, "Rejoice, blessed one. The Lord is with you. You are blessed among women." And Mary looked around to the right and the left to see where this voice came from. And trembling she went into her house. Setting down the cup, she took the purple thread and sat down on the chair and spun it. Suddenly, an angel stood before her saying, "Do not be afraid Mary. You have found grace before the Lord of all. You will conceive from his word." Upon hearing this, however, Mary was distraught, saying to herself, "If I conceive from the Lord God who lives, will I also conceive as all women conceive?" And the Angel of the Lord said, "Not like that, Mary. For the power of God will come over you. Thus, the holy one who is born will be called son of the most high. And you will call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins." And Mary said, "See, I am the servant of the Lord before him. Let it happen to me according to what you say." PGJ 11 passim

The belief that Mary’s first encounter with the angel took place at a well has its Old Testament counterparts: the encounter of the chief servant of Abraham’s household with Rebecca (Gen 24:13ff); Jacob’s meeting with Rachel (Gen 29:2ff) and Moses’ with Zipporah (Ex 2:16ff).

V.1. Nazareth – Mary's Well and the Greek Orthodox Church of St. Gabriel

And she took the cup and went out to fill it with water. Suddenly, a voice said to her, "Rejoice, blessed one. The Lord is with you. You are blessed among women." (3) And Mary looked around to the right and the left to see where this voice came from. (4) And trembling she went into her house. Setting down the cup, she took the purple thread and sat down on the chair and spun it. Suddenly, an angel stood before her saying, "Do not be afraid Mary. You have found grace before the Lord of all. You will conceive from his word." Upon hearing this, however, Mary was distraught, saying to herself, "If I conceive from the Lord God who lives, will I also conceive as all women conceive?" And the Angel of the Lord said, "Not like that, Mary. For the power of God will come over you. Thus, the holy one who is born will be called son of the most high. And you will call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins." And Mary said, "See, I am the servant of the Lord before him. Let it happen to me according to what you say." PGJ 11

At the base of the northern slope of St. Gabriel Church are three springs, whose water flows fifty-four feet through a rock-cut channel into the.

(Mary's well)

Greek Orthodox Church (built in 1750, although containing Crusader remains). It then continues underground for five hundred feet to a structure called Mary's Well (first built in 1862 and now restored). This gushing water is significant for two reasons.

First, it is Nazareth's biggest source, flowing at the rate of one thousand gallons per hour in the winter's end (250 in summer). Although there were several smaller springs around the village, and people had cisterns in their homes as well, it is assumed that Mary came to this spring with other women of the village to do the washing. In the West Bank today, many villages still lack piped water and one sees the women at the major spring on laundry day just as two thousand years ago.

Secondly, there is an ancient tradition about this spring. In the Protoevangelium of James we read that Mary was one of seven unblemished virgins from the line of David who were supposed to weave a new curtain for the Holy of Holies in the Temple. It was her task to spin purple and scarlet threads. That is why, in the iconography, she is sometimes depicted spinning.

V.2. Nazareth – The Roman Catholic Church of the Annunciation

The large church we see today was built from 1954 - 1970, but it incorporates the ruins of its forebears. In commissioning the work, the Franciscans specified three M's: it should be modern (in the spirit of Vatican II), multinational and, above all, it should bring to expression the mystery of the Annunciation: that is, of the meeting between the divine and the human. The church is clearly modern in style. Its multi-nationality is manifest in its art works, showing how the peoples of the world envision Mary and child. Most interesting, however, is the way in which the architect, Giovanni Muzio, brought out the mystery. To see this, we need to study the structure:

The building contains two churches. The lower one, simple in form, is for the use of pilgrim groups, whereas the upper, elaborate church is for the local congregation. Between the two is a large octagonal opening called the "oculus," literally "eye."

(The Roman Catholic Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth, interior)

(The Roman Catholic Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth, exterior)

The modest lower church may be said to represent the human dimension. It includes the ruins of a Byzantine church, and on its north side is a cave. Here tradition places the Annunciation. There are even two ancient pillars marking the places where Mary and the angel stood. More likely, though, the house was above, and only this cave-basement has remained.

The upper church expresses the divine dimension. First, there is the light source: the dome itself, which blossoms over the oculus like a lily. Behind the altar a huge mosaic shows Christ in glory, with Peter and Mary beside him, while below the popes and pilgrims are shown in a procession. On the walls are the multinational representations of Mary and child. Over and over in the design one sees the letter M -- or AVM, for Ave Maria. The impression is one of articulate grandeur.

In between the divine (Upper Church) and the human (Crypt below) is the oculus, the opening. If one stands in the upper church when a pilgrim group sings Mass in the lower, the song rises up, and in the air of the oculus one can sense the encounter.

VI. Ain Karim

And when Elizabeth heard that John was being sought, she took him and headed for the hills. And she looked around to find where she could hide him, but there was not any good place. Then, as Elizabeth sighed, she said with a loud voice, "Mountain of God, take me, a mother with her child." For Elizabeth was too afraid to go up higher. And at once, the mountain split open and received her. And there was light shining through the mountain to her. For an angel of the Lord was with them, guarding them. PGJ 22:5-8.

(Ain Karim today)

Although Ain Karim is associated with the visitation of Mary to Elizabeth’s house and the birth of John the Baptist, the first church in Ain Karim commemorated the flight of Elizabeth as it is rendered in the Protogospel of James. A testimony from Theodosius dated around 530 reports: “It is five miles from Jerusalem to the house of Elisabeth, the mother of John the Baptist. Elizabeth fled there with her child while Zachary was slain in the temple.”

Mary Visits Elizabeth

At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, where she entered Zechariah's home and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!" Luke 1:39-45

The identification of Ain Karim with the Visitation began with the crusades though the flight of Elizabeth to this place was in the foreground of the pilgrims’ devotion. When in 1187 the crusaders had to leave Ain Karim, the church decayed until the beginning of the fourteenth century when the Armenians revived the devotion. However, the Armenians had to leave the place in 1480 and it took until 1679 when the Franciscans bought the ruinous building from the Muslims. The complex structure consists of a lower church or crypt which was restored in 1861. The rock which according to the apocryphal tradition offered shelter to Elisabeth and her infant son can be seen in an alcove. Three frescos of Della Torre show the greeting of Mary and Elizabeth, Zachary in the temple offering incense and Elizabeth hiding her son. The main, upper church was rebuilt only between 1838 and 1846. Frescos of Vagharini and Manetti proclaim the fruitful activity of the Mother of Jesus. The painting in the apse portrays Mary on her way through the hill country while heaven and earth hail her. The frescos on the right side show the five aspects of the church’s Marian belief: Mary, the Mother of God (Theotokos) and the Third Ecumenical Council of Ephesus in 431; Mary, Refuge of the needy as Schutzmantelmadonna; Mary, Help of Christians and the Battle of Lepanto of October 7, 1571; Mary’s Immaculate Conception and the disputation of the English Franciscan Duns Scotus in 1308. In the outer courtyard of the church the Magnificat can be read in forty-one languages:

(Church of Ain Karim)

And Mary said:
"My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
for the Mighty One has done great things for me— holy is his name.
His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants forever, even as he said to our fathers."
Luke 1:46-55

Zechariah and Elizabeth are two typical Old Testament figures. Their sad lot, the lack of children, had been shared by Abraham and Sarah, by Jacob and Rachel, by Samson's parents and by Samuel's parents. They live sadly, under the burden of God's disfavor.

When the angel appears to him, Zechariah is skeptical about the possibility of the promised descendant, as the ancient patriarchs who, under similar circumstances, had lowered their heads, smiling. However, unlike the patriarchs, he insists on having a special sign. His lack of trust is punished at once with muteness, muteness from which he will recover only when, obedient to God's will, he confirms the name suggested by Elizabeth for their son. The praise-giving canticle, which then bursts forth from his heart, lyrical and impetuous, marks one of the most sublime moments in the history of salvation, which had begun with the submissive and sweet consent of Mary: "Let it be done to me as you say."

According to the Proto gospel of James, Zechariah was killed in the Temple, in consequence of the slaughter of the Innocents.

Meanwhile Herod searched for John and sent some servants to Zechariah, who asked him: 'Where did you hide your son?' and he replied: 'I am a minister of God and I spend all my time in the temple of the Lord; I do not know where my son is.’ When the murderers came for the second time, Zechariah said: 'Martyr of God I am if you shed my blood. Verily my spirit will be received by the Lord, because an innocent's blood you shed in the vestibule of God's temple!' And at sun break Zechariah was killed. PGJ23

Elizabeth is an example of most delicate modesty. By now elderly, resigned to the despised destiny of sterile women, she becomes aware that she is with child and hides herself. She fears that people in the village will censure her because she had intercourse with her old husband, and wishes to meditate in solitude, to savor the deep joy of maternity, to praise God who at last has thought of her. In the silence of her retreat she receives the visit of the Virgin Mary and the Holy Spirit inspires to her the first acknowledgment of the Messiah:

"But who am I that the mother of my Lord should come to me?"

(Rogier van der Weyden. St. John Altarpiece. The Birth of St. John the Baptist. c.1455-1460. Oil on panel. Gemäldegalerie, Berlin, Germany.)

The episode, narrated in the Proto-Gospel of James (22) makes the figure of Elizabeth even more moving. During the slaughter of the Innocents Elizabeth flees with her little one. Climbing down the slope, she crosses the valley and climbs up the opposite side. But she is old; she cannot keep running uphill and cries, "Receive, O Mountain, the mother and her child!" The Lord shows again mercy upon her, listens to her desperate invocation and hides her in the rock.

"Mary remained with Elizabeth about three months.” Just as the ark of the ancient Covenant had remained three months in the house of Obed-Edom: "The Lord blessed Obed-Edom and his whole house" (2 Sm 6, 11) so Mary as the Ark of the New Covenant Israelites blessed the house of Elizabeth and Zachariah with her presence for the same time.

According to the Proto gospel of James (chapter 22) Elizabeth flees with her little son John during the slaughter of the Innocents.

And when Elizabeth heard that John was being sought, she took him and headed for the hills. And she looked around to find where she could hide him, but there was not any good place. Then, as Elizabeth sighed, she said with a loud voice, "Mountain of God, take me, a mother with her child." For Elizabeth was too afraid to go up higher. And at once, the mountain split open and received her. And there was light shining through the mountain to her. For an angel of the Lord was with them, guarding them. (PGJ 22:5-9)

VI.1 Ain Karim – Shrine of the Visitation (The Church on the Southern Hill)

The existence of places of cult at Ain Karim has been witnessed to by pilgrims since the first half of the sixth century. Theodosius (530) was a pious archdeacon and would hardly remember a site only as a function of Gospel texts. He almost certainly saw one or more churches. Codes give different versions of his chronicle. Some read: "From Jerusalem to Zechariah's house"; others "Where Mary greeted Elizabeth"; others again "Where Elizabeth lived." The definition "Zechariah's house" is exceedingly interesting. Early Christians used to celebrate the liturgy in houses, preferably in the house of the most devout or influential family in town. More than one thousand years later Fr. Quaresmi will say: "It is called Zechariah's house. This house was turned into a church by pious believers." In Ain Karim, a secluded country village, the word house could still be used at the beginning of the sixth century to mean the regular church built over it.

On the other hand, the fact that Theodosius does not remember specifically one or more churches, is strange to a certain extent. The presence of sacred buildings might be taken for granted. Also, in later times and namely in the pilgrims' chronicles from Abbot Daniel (1106) to Phocas the monk (1177) and from the latter up to Odoricus of Pordenone (1320), we find no reference to the churches which undoubtedly existed. Phocas himself speaks of St. John's and completely forgets the Crusader church of the Visitation.

Some facts help us in integrating history. Already Aetheria (ca 395) informs "her dear ladies," that in the Holy Land monks used to offer souvenirs to all whom they cordially lodged in their hermitages. Sometimes such souvenirs were represented by fruit, like the ones she received in the orchard of St. John the Baptist at Ennon; more often they were tiny rock fragments which, often arranged in a setting, were carried hanging from a chain around the neck. These souvenirs were called eulogias, blessings.

An eulogia depicting St. Elizabeth is kept in the treasure of the cathedral in Bobbio (Italy). It is a small disk of sun-baked clay on which we can read along the outer border a Greek inscription saying, "Blessing of the Lord from St. Elizabeth's shelter." The scene represented on the eulogia is the traditional one: Elizabeth runs away followed by a soldier brandishing the sword; she is frightened and looks backwards to make sure that a certain distance separates her from the most dreadful of fates, the fate of seeing her son killed. Some details, for example, the soldier's haircut, recall the portraits on Heraclius' coins (610-642) and thus date this medallion from the middle Byzantine period.

Other relics coming from Ain Karim were kept in the chapel called Sancta Sanctorum, Holy of Holies, in the ancient Lateran papal palace and at the Holy Steps. They were rock fragments from the shelter on the hill, wrapped up in scraps of parchment. Three pages of a fifth century codex of Titus Livius were cut into four or six parts and each part served to wrap up a relic. On one of these scraps are the Latin words "Stone of the cave where Elizabeth..."; on another: "Earth of the grotto, Elizabeth with John…". The paleographic analysis has determined that the notes made on the ancient parchment go back to the eighth century, perhaps even to the seventh century. This is a valuable chronological datum for evaluating the age of the relics. Their importance is confirmed by the fact that they were kept together with relics coming from the Holy Sepulchre, Calvary, Manger and other holy places.

The Lectionary of Jerusalem (sixth – eighth century) commemorates a yearly feast held on August 28. Since the official liturgy represents an already evolved stage in the development of a rite and since the Lectionary reflects the conditions of the Jerusalem Church beginning from the fifth century we see that the Ain Karim tradition goes back to the early Church.

VI.2 Ain Karim – The Place

The Gospels do not state in which village or town the events which they narrate took place and proposed hypotheses are numerous. Some Fathers of the Church (among whom were Augustine, Jerome and Euthymius) believed that John the Baptist was born in Jerusalem. In fact, they thought that the altar of perfumes, on which Zechariah, the High Priest, was burning incense when the angelic vision appeared to him, stood in the Holy of Holies where only the High Priest could enter once a year, in September, on the day of atonement. In view of the fact that the High Priest had to live in the Holy City, some western authors also drew the conclusion that the Baptist was born in Jerusalem.

However, the altar of perfumes, at which the common priests incensed twice a day, stood in the Holy, but not in the Holy of Holies. Moreover, St. Luke clearly says that Zechariah was a simple priest belonging to the class of Abijah, that is to the eighth of the twenty-four classes established by David (1 Chr 24, 10); that he was performing his weekly duty (each class was in charge of liturgical services in the Temple from one Saturday to the next); and that his specific task had been assigned to him by lot (which could happen sometimes only once in a lifetime). Common priests, after accomplishing their duty, were not obliged to dwell in Jerusalem. Luke says, "Then, when his time of priestly service was over, he went home," a superfluous statement if Zechariah had lived in Jerusalem.

Cardinal Caesar Baronio thought that Zechariah's home should necessarily be in a priestly city and sustained the hypothesis that the forerunner had been born in Hebron, the main priestly city in Judea. Reland (Palaestina ex monumentis veteribus illustrata, Utrecht 1714) held that Luke by the word Judah had named Zechariah's town and thought of Yuttah or Yota, priestly city south of Hebron, at present called Yatta.

However, after the Jews had come back from the Babylonian exile, priests and Levites were no longer obliged to live in the places assigned to them upon Israel's arrival in the Promised Land; on the contrary, they lived elsewhere. Furthermore, after the exile, Hebron and the whole southern part of Judea were no more inhabited by Jews, rather by Idumeans. Josephus Flavius, as well as other authors of the time, no longer considered the towns in that region as towns in Judah, but always as towns of the Idumeans. Nothing warrants the supposition that St. Luke refers to Yatta by the name of Judah: there are no manuscripts, translations or historical documents which corroborate it.

Concerning the Baptist's home, other hypotheses were expressed by western authors. Some of them confused the birthplace with the place of death (the fortress of Machaerus) and with the burial place of the saint (Sebaste); others thought of Judah of Nephtali (north of Nazareth), of Bethzechariah, the village famous for the victory of Judas Maccabee over Lysias, general of Antiochus Epiphanus (1 Me 6,30-33), eight km. south-west of Bethlehem, and of Beit Sha'ar (two km. south-east of Beth-Zechariah), the supposed burial place of Zechariah the prophet (PG 47, 1628).

Therefore, it is necessary to try to localize the birth-place of St. John the Baptist in a way more adherent to Luke's gospel. The Evangelist says that our Lady "proceeded into the hill country" (éis tèn oreinèn). In the book of Joshua (15, 20-63) the towns assigned to the tribe of Judah were in four regions, characterized by the general terrain or geographic position: Negheb (the South), Shephelah (the Plain), Har (the Mountains), and Midbar (the Desert). Other biblical texts, with exactitude, call the hill region of Jerusalem "the mountains" (Gn 14:10; Nm 13:29; Jos 2:16. 22; Jgs 1:9; Jer 40:13; Ze 7:7; Na 8:15; 1 Me 2:28). So common was this appellation that when the Romans divided Judea into ten toparchies, Orine (the hill region) became the proper name of the Jerusalem toparchy. This information is confirmed by Pliny the Elder, contemporary with Luke, in his Natural History (book V, chapter 14, No. 70). He clearly lists the toparchies (Jericho, Emmaus, Lod, Jaffa, Acrabatene, Gofna, Tamna, Beit-Nettif, Herodium and Orine), stating, "Orine in which is Jerusalem, the most pre-eminent city in the Orient, not only in Judea. "Orine necessarily included Ain Karim which, therefore, may be identified with the Canaanite village Karem.

The Alexandrian translation of Joshua (5:60) records the site along with Kulon (Koloniyeh), Baither (Bittir), Galem, (Beit Jala) and Bethlehem, all places in the triangle at the angles of which there are Jerusalem (east), Bethlehem (south) and Ain Karim (west).

Probably Ain Karim is the Bethaccherem of Jeremiah (6:1), the Bethaccherem of Nehemiah (3:14), perhaps the Beth-car of 1 Sm 7:11.

VII. On the Way to Bethlehem

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, … Lk 2:4-6

When they came to the middle of the journey, Mary said to him, "Joseph, take me off the donkey, the child pushing from within me to let him come out." So he took her off the donkey and said to her, "Where will I take you and shelter you in your awkwardness? This area is a desert.” PGJ 17:3

In 1993 construction workers employed at the expressway between Jerusalem and Bethlehem excavated ca 150 m north of the Greek – orthodox monastery Mar-Elias the ruins of pillars and of the foundation of a church from the fourth or fifth century. Thereby they unearthed one of the oldest churches of Christianity Ecclesia Kathismathis – The Old Seat. According to an old tradition it was here that Mary rested while on the way from Nazareth to Bethlehem and from this place she continued the remainder of her journey on foot and with much pain. The Old Seat was an unhewn rock.

In order to commemorate the beginning of Mary’s labor pains the well to do and pious Hicelia had this church built around 451. It is also at this place that the renowned abbot and archdeacon Theodosius (518-558) wrote about the labor pains of the Mother of God. There is no doubt that the legend of Mary taking a break on her way to Bethlehem corresponds to an Old Testament story which happened exactly on the same road and speaks of Rachel’s labor pains in anticipation of Benjamin’s birth (Gen 35:17). The post-apostolic church interpreted Mary’s labor pains as Messianic labor pains in view of the Johannine vision which the church applied to Mary as well as to the People of God.

A great and wondrous sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth. Rev 12:1f.

The woman in this text is clearly the mother of the Messiah as the following text confirms:

She gave birth to a son, a male child, who will rule all the nations with an iron scepter. And her child was snatched up to God and to his throne. Rev 12:5

The Church Fathers of the fourth and fifth centuries however denied that Mary had any birth pangs. For Pope Siricius (384-399), Ambrose of Milan (374-394) and St. Augustine (394-430) the Creed’s profession “born of the Virgin Mary” refers to the dogma that Mary gave virginal birth and hence did not experience labor pains.

Thomas of Aquinas recalling Augustine addressed himself to the Virgin-Mother:

"In conceiving thou wast all pure, in giving birth thou wast without pain" confirms: The pains of childbirth are caused by the infant opening the passage from the womb. Now it has been said above (28, 2, Replies to objections), that Christ came forth from the closed womb of His Mother, and, consequently, without opening the passage. Consequently there was no pain in that birth, as neither was there any corruption. (Summa Theologiae P3, qu 35, a 6)

This supports the Catholic teaching that Mary was conceived without original sin and thus did not have to suffer the consequences of it either. The Ethiopian Church joins in this belief and prays on 16. Jâkâtît (February 23) that Mary’s pregnancy lasted nine months and five days. Quoting Mary the prayer continues: “without strain you (Jesus) were born and your birth was without pain.”

Probably the oldest reference to Mary’s painless delivery is found in the apocryphal Gospel of Bartholomew from the third-fifth century:

O womb more spacious than a city, wider than the spreading of the heavens, that contained him whom the seven heavens contain not, but thou without pain didst contain sanctified in thy bosom.

VIII. 1. Bethlehem

For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior,
which is Christ the Lord. (Luke 2:11)

Bethlehem (House of Bread - House of Lahmu) is located about six miles southwest of Jerusalem by the hill country of Judea on the way to Hebron. It is first mentioned in the Armana letters fourteen centuries BCE. Bethlehem is sacred to all three religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

Bethlehem plays a significant part in the Old Testament, in the history of the Israelites, both before they entered Egypt and slavery, and after the Exodus. It appears in the Old Testament as Ephrat, where Rachel the beloved matriarch of the Jewish People, the favorite wife of Jacob, died during childbirth. The Tomb of Rachel, is a pilgrimage place for Jews and Muslims alike. Among other Biblical mentions and Holy Sites in Bethlehem are: Naomi and Ruth, Samuel anoints King David and the well from which David's warriors brought him waters. In the Bible it is called "Bethlehem of Judah" (belonging to the tribe of Judah), to distinguish it from the other Bethlehem, which was in the North in the territory of the Zebulon.

(Entrance to the Basilica of the Nativity)

David, the youngest son of a Bethlehem-farmer (a shepherd) is chosen and anointed by the Prophet Samuel on behalf of the Lord as a king. (First Samuel 17:12). According to Matthew 2 and Luke 2, Jesus was born in Bethlehem, and Matthew interpreted this as the fulfillment of Micah's prophecy. In effect it became a sort of official rightful place of the family line of David. Christian tradition, perhaps as early as the second century AD, identified a cave as the site of Jesus' birth. About 338 AD Constantine, the Roman emperor and his mother, Helena, built a church over the grotto and In 527 Justinian the Emperor of the Byzantine Empire resettled in Bethlehem, his reign was one of great prosperity and expansion of churches. The site of the Nativity is a central pilgrimage destination for Christians from all over the world.

(Altar of Christ's Birth)

Bethlehem was a city of importance to the Crusaders, who conquered it in the year 1100. Over years of wars between the Crusaders and the Muslims the city was destroyed, and then subsequently rebuilt. The Turks destroyed the city in 1244, but the church somehow escaped, Bethlehem was rebuilt once again.

When the Crusaders were driven from Palestine in 1291, the Moslem rulers used the holy places for political and financial ends. Although Bethlehem was still nominally endowed, collection of revenue from the land was impossible. In 1332 Pope John XXII wrote to Edward III of England, to David II of Scotland and to Simon of Meopham, Archbishop of Canterbury, asking them to help the bishop of Bethlehem to regain his interest and so enable him to return to Bethlehem and carry out repairs. It seems little was done. Decay and destruction proceeded over the years as a result of fighting between the local Christian and Muslim residents.

The Population of Bethlehem today is made up of Christians and Moslems. Among the Christians: Catholics of Latin, Syrian, Malachite, Armenian and Maronite rites and Orthodox of Greek, Syrian and Armenian denominations. Protestants are also present in the Judean town.

VIII. 2. Bethlehem – The Birth Place of Jesus

Then they moved on from Bethel. While they were still some distance from Ephrath, Rachel began to give birth and had great difficulty. And as she was having great difficulty in childbirth, the midwife said to her, "Don't be afraid, for you have another son. As she breathed her last --for she was dying --she named her son Ben-oni. But his father named him Benjamin. So Rachel died and was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem). Over her tomb Jacob set up a pillar, and to this day that pillar marks Rachel's tomb. Gen. 35:16-19

And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem (because he was of the house and lineage of David). Lk 2:4

While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. Lk 2:6f

(Bethlehem: Church of the Nativity)

(Entrance to the Church of the Nativity)

For many centuries Christians in Bethlehem have celebrated Christmas three times.

1. On December 24 at 1:30 pm the Latin Patriarch together with his bishops, priests, monks and a large number of faithful from around the world are welcomed by the major of Bethlehem and his city council in front of the Church of the Nativity.

At 4 pm according to custom the congregation led by the Patriarch descends to the grotto of the Nativity, below the sanctuary of the Greek Orthodox Church. The cave is lit by fifty-three sanctuary lamps. At the east wall of the grotto traces of a mosaic depicting the birth of Christ can be seen.

Below the altar the place of Jesus’ birth is marked with a golden star on white marble bearing the inscription: "Hic de Virgine Maria Jesus Christus natus est."

Around midnight the Gloria in excelsis Deo is sung in the Latin right St. Catherine Church.

After the solemn liturgy the Patriarch returns once more to the grotto of the Nativity where he places il bambino (a figure of Baby Jesus carved in Spain) on the altar where it will remain until January 6.

Anglicans and Episcopalians from Jerusalem and Bethlehem gather at 9 pm in the courtyard of the Church of the Nativity in order to sing Christmas Carols. 

Many pilgrims also walk to the shepherds’ fields where they listen to the biblical account of the Christmas Story. They are united in the one wish that peace may reign in this war torn area.

2. The second Christmas is celebrated according to the Julian calendar on January 6/7. The Greek-orthodox Patriarch and the Archbishop members of the Holy Synod set on pilgrimage from Jerusalem to Bethlehem. On the way they have a picnic with pita bread and olives at the orthodox cloister of the Prophet Elijah. From the nativity scene in the courtyard outside the Church of the Nativity they process inside the church led by carriers of candles, icons, banners and a cross. There they celebrate the Christmas liturgy in Aramaic, Jesus’ own language.

3. The last Christmas in Bethlehem is celebrated on January 18/19 by the Armenian-Orthodox Christians. On January 18 at 11 am the Armenian Patriarch meets with his arch-bishops, bishops, archimandrites, priests and monks in Bethlehem. At midnight the Patriarch celebrates the solemn liturgy above the Latin Star of Christ’s birth in the nativity grotto.

IX. Jerusalem – A city rich in History, Traditions and Culture

Jerusalem as a religious center is sacred to all three monotheistic religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Pilgrims from all nations congregate in the Holy City and millions of tourists flow through the gates of Jerusalem each year. References to the city of Jerusalem appear throughout the entire Scriptures. The Scriptural history of Jerusalem (known then as "Salem"), begins when Abraham meets "Melchizedek" (King of Justice) about 2000 BC.

(Bethlehem – St. Catherine Church)

View of Holy Sepulcher

Through the ages it has been called by many names: Urusalim, Salem, Mount Moriah, Adonai Urah, Jebus, Jerusalem, Zion, the City of David, Ariel (Lion of God) God has declared that this is the place He will establish His Name and will dwell there forever.

David conquered Jerusalem by defeating the Jebusites in 1052 BCE Chronicles 1 11:4-9), nearly 3000 years ago.

In history, No other city has been beloved and fought over as Jerusalem.

After David's death, Solomon (in 1015 BC/BCE) began to "build a house for the Name of the Lord" (Chronicles 2 2:1). It took seven years and 183,300 men to build it (Kings 1- 5:13-16; 6:38). It measured nearly ninety feet in length, thirty feet in width and fourty-five feet in height (1 Kings 6:2). The Holy Of Holies occupied one-third of the interior space, and the Holy Place, two-thirds. The complete details are described in Kings 1 - 6 & 7. When it was completed, the Glory of God filled the Temple (Chronicles 2 7:1). Israel was divided after Solomon's death (979 BCE). The kingdom of Israel was in the north, while Judah was in the south. Jerusalem was the capital of Judah (the Southern Kingdom). It was to be ruled by a succession of twenty kings from 979 BCE to 586 BCE. Their reigns lasted from as short as three months (Jehoahaz and Jehoiachim) to as long as fifty-five years (Manasseh). The disheartening history of the declines of Judah is told in Kings 1 12:1-2, Kings 25:30, and 2 Chronicles 10:1-36:21

Jerusalem was entirely destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar in 586 BC/BCE. The city and the Holy Temple were completely demolished, and the articles of the Temple and its treasures were carried off to Babylon. The inhabitants that were not killed were also taken to Babylon. Jerusalem was to lie desolate for seventy years in order that the land might enjoy its Sabbaths (Chronicles 2 36:17-21/Leviticus 26:34).

Seventy-one years later (445 BCE) In 539 BCE, Cyrus, king of Persia issued a proclamation to rebuild the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, a total of 42,360 people returned to Jerusalem and Judah to help rebuild the Temple, not including male and female servants and the musicians. All gave according to their ability, in order to finance the work.

In the first year, during the month of year, Jeshua and Zerubbabel led a group to build the altar in order to offer sacrifices in accordance with Torah. It was finally completed in 516 BCE and took twenty-three years.

In 167 BCE the Greeks converted the Temple in Jerusalem into a show place to Greek idols.

In 40 BCE the Romans being the super power of that time dispatched an army of 30,000 infantry and 6,000 cavalry to take Jerusalem.

Jerusalem and its Temple were incinerated.

When Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire under Constantine, the basilica of the Holy Sepulchre was built in Jerusalem, the most important and prominent building in the city at the time.

During the Byzantine era (330-640 CE) many impressive Christian architectural monuments were built in the city. Jerusalem was a major Christian center, attracting pilgrims from all over the Roman Empire. Monks and clergy from the various sects started to settle in the city, and pilgrims from different countries filled Jerusalem's streets: Ethiopians and Armenians, Copts and Nestorians, Syrian Jacobites and Gregorians and, above all, Greek-Orthodox, who became the dominant Christian group in the city.

At the end of the eleventh century, Seljuk tribes invaded the country. The city passed from one ruler to another until the arrival of the Crusaders who ruled about two hundred years (1095-1187) CE and again after a brief period, from 1189-1348.

Christian Crusaders order in Jerusalem was extremely brutal, especially at the beginning of the period, and the domination of the city was accompanied by a massacre of most of the Jews and Moslems residing there.

Jerusalem has been fought over by armies of the Assyrians, Babylonians, Egyptians, Greeks, Ptolemies, Seleucids, Romans, Byzantines,Persians, Arabs, Seljuks, Crusaders, Mongols, Mamelukes, Turks, British, Jordanians, Egyptians, Syrians, Lebanese, and Iraqis. Today the nations of the entire world consider it their responsibility and obligation to intervene in her politics and destiny.

This is a city that has been besieged about forty different times and destroyed (at least partially) on thirty-two different occasions. The rulership of Jerusalem has changed hands some twenty-six times. From the time of the establishment of the State of Israel in May of 1948 until 1967, the city was divided. Walls, barbed-wire fences and a desolated strip of non-man's land cut through the very heart of the city, especially excluding the Jews from the Old City and the Temple Mount. During that time the Jewish Quarter was leveled and its synagogues burned. Jewish graves and monuments were desecrated or turned into latrines, Since 1948 Jerusalem has experienced four wars. Jerusalem, "The City of Peace" has known wars and destruction since it existence was first known to us from the Biblical record.

Today, Jerusalem is more of a city of religion, art, culture, and museums than an economically viable regional marketplace or a center of business activity. Yet Jerusalem thrives in our time as a city full of mystical attractiveness and endless fascination.

Jerusalem has played, and will continue to play, an important part in God's deliverance of the earth, His Holy City, and our involvement in it.

Adopted from: Lena Mor -

(View of the Holy Sepulcher)

(Church of Daminus flevit)

(Church of Dormition)

(Bethlehem – the Shepherd’s Field)

X. Jerusalem – Mary’s Purification and the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple

When the time of their purification according to the Law of Moses had been completed, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, "Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord" and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: "a pair of doves or two young pigeons." (Lk 2:22-24)

(Giotto. The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple. 1304-1306. Fresco. Capella degli Scrovegni, Padua, Italy)

Only Luke relates that on the eighth day after Jesus’ birth his parents brought him to the temple in order to be circumcised as it was prescribed according to Gen 17:12-14. To remain uncircumcised meant to be excluded from the sons of the covenant and to be a son of destruction. To be called ‘uncircumcised’ was considered the worst curse.

The Latin rite church calls the feast the Presentation of the Lord in the Temple and the Eastern Orthodox name it Hypapánte tou Christou (Encounter of Christ with Simeon and Hanna). The Biblical scene describes a double ritual: Mary’s purification forty days after the birth of a child (Lev 12) and the paying a ransom for the first born son. The latter was the obligation of the parents due to the peter rechem – the opening of the birth canal. In Israel, every first-born human being as well as animal or the fruit of the field belonged to God.

The LORD said to Moses, "Consecrate to me every firstborn male. The first offspring of every womb among the Israelites belongs to me, whether man or animal." "Everything in Israel that is devoted to the LORD is yours. The first offspring of every womb, both man and animal, that is offered to the LORD is yours. But you must redeem every firstborn son and every firstborn male of unclean animals. When they are a month old, you must redeem them at the redemption price set at five shekels of silver, according to the sanctuary shekel, which weighs twenty gerahs. "But you must not redeem the firstborn of an ox, a sheep or a goat; they are holy. Sprinkle their blood on the altar and burn their fat as an offering made by fire, an aroma pleasing to the LORD. Their meat is to be yours, just as the breast of the wave offering and the right thigh are yours. Whatever is set aside from the holy offerings the Israelites present to the LORD I give to you and your sons and daughters as your regular share. It is an everlasting covenant of salt before the LORD for both you and your offspring." Ex 13:1- 19

At Jesus’ time parents had to ransom their child within a month:

When they are a month old, you must redeem them at the redemption price set at five shekels of silver, according to the sanctuary shekel, which weighs twenty gerahs. Num 18:16

The parallel report of the circumcision of John, the Baptist, does not speak of a ransom since according to the Book of Numbers children from the class of priests and Levites were excluded from this obligation (see Num 8:18).

XI. Bethlehem – Magharât as –Saiyidah (The Nursing Mary)

(Bethlehem: The Milk Grotto Church)

"Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you."(Lk 11:27)

When leaving the Church of the Nativity via the Greek convent yard one reaches a street with the Milk Grotto. According to an old Armenian tradition this is the place where the Holy Family hid before they fled to Egypt. When the Virgin Mary nursed her child, her milk dropped on the rocks which turned milky white.

Christians of all denominations as well as Muslims pilgrim to this place. On the walls of the cave are many representations of Maria lactans (the nursing Madonna) and of Old Testament prophets

Already in the fifth century Paula who was associated with St. Jerome had a church built at that place which was first known as Mary’s Church and after Paula’s death was named after her. In 1375 Pope Gregory XI granted permission to the Franciscans to restore and enlarge the church.

The present church was completed in 1892 and offers consolation to mothers

who seek refuge in Mary’s care. The confidence of Christian and Muslim mothers in Mary at the Milk Grotto is very strong.

Up to the 1960 they even received small bags containing the limestone powder from the grotto. It had the inscription: Ex S. Crypta B.M.V. Lactis dicta. Since these souvenirs/ sacramentals are no longer available, many women scratch the walls of the cave in order to procure some of the beneficial white dust. Byzantine iconography calls the Nursing Mother Galaktotrophousa (Giver of Milk). In the West portrays of Maria lactans spread widely during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.

XII. Al-Bireh

Motherly Worry

In Al-Bireh or Beerot (Jos 9:17), situated less than ten miles (sixteen km) north of Jerusalem, can be found a well which served the caravans on their way from Jerusalem to Galilee. The Hebrew as well as Arabic translation of Al-Bireh simply means well. According to tradition, Joseph and Mary took a break at this well on their return from Egypt. Without doubt Joseph taught his son during their long journeys which prepared him for his mission as a twelve-year-old in the temple.

After the Feast was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Luke 2:43-46

The biblical story tells of an enormous maturity of the child Jesus. According to the law a thirteen-year-old had the same obligations as an adult. They had to recite the Schema Israel (Hear, O Israel Dt 6:4f) three times daily; they had to fast on the prescribed days and had to participate in the customary pilgrimages (Dt 16:1-16). Jesus was a Bar Mizva, a son of the law, which means that as a five-year-old he had to read the Bible; as a ten-year-old he needed to learn the mishna; as a thirteen-year-old he had to observe the commandments; as a fifteen-year-old he was obliged to study the Gemara and as a twenty-year-old to strive. (Mishna Avot V, 21).

(Jesus, 12 years old teaching in the Temple. Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, Modesto CA)

XIII. Cana in Galilee

Jesus’ First Miracle

On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus' mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine was gone, Jesus' mother said to him, "They have no more wine."

"Dear woman, why do you involve me?" Jesus replied, "My time has not yet come." His mother said to the servants, "Do whatever he tells you." Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, "Fill the jars with water"; so they filled them to the brim. Then he told them, "Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet." They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside and said, "Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now." Jn 2:1-10

(Detail from The Wedding Feast at Cana, Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld, Hamburg, 1819)

At the Wedding in Cana Jesus worked his first sign upon the prompting of his Mother. The indicated day (on the third day) would be Tuesday which still today is the customary wedding day in the Holy Land reminiscent of the third day of creation when God repeated twice that what he had done was good (cf. Gen 1:10; 12).

The wedding of a young woman [first time virginal bride] took seven days while that of a widowed bride three days. Thus it I not surprising that a couple could run out of wine. We are not sure of the exact location of the wedding event. The Book Josua (19:28) speaks of a Cana. Since the seventeenth century Franciscans settled in Kafr Kenna (Village of the Daughter in law). The similarity between Cana and Kenna may have led to identify the Franciscan settlement with the location of the biblical miracle.

The Franciscans built the “Wedding Church” in 1879 on the ruins of a mosque which had been built on the foundation of a synagogue of the fifth century. The painting in the crypt of the church focuses on Mary’s intercession so that the couple would be spared the embarrassment. The paintings in the Upper Church depict the sanctification of marriage through Jesus’ participation in the wedding ceremony, the institution of the state of matrimony (Gen 1:28) and the exemplary marriage of Tobias and Sara.

The New Testament Cana was about five miles north of the Galilean capital Sepphoris known today as a hill of ruins called Khirbet Kana. Excavations have shown that Cana was located on the top of the hill. The first pilgrim to mention Cana is the Anonymous from Piacenza (570 AD): “Then after three miles we arrived in Cana where the Lord attended the wedding.” Bishop Willibald of Eichstaett, Germany (724/26) writes about an old church. “On its altar stood one of the six jars of water which the Lord asked to be filled and which he then changed into wine.” The crusaders situated Cana “in loco Batuf” as part of the Nazareth diocese. Medieval pilgrims still visited this place.

The Dominican Burchard of Mount Zion from Barby/Elbe (1290) described Cana at the slope of a mountain. From the seventeenth century on this place lay in ruins with only the well from which the water was drawn, left.

On the feast of Epiphany three events are celebrated in Cana: the adoration of the three kings from the Orient, the Baptism of the Lord and the first sign of Jesus manifested at the wedding at Cana. The Coptic Church celebrates the Miracle at Cana on January 21.

XIV. Nazareth

Mary’s Anguish

And he began by saying to them, "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing." All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. "Isn't this Joseph's son?" they asked. Jesus said to them, "Surely you will quote this proverb to me: 'Physician, heal yourself! Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.' " "I tell you the truth," he continued, "no prophet is accepted in his hometown. I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah's time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. And there were many in Israel with leprosy[a] in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian." All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him down the cliff. But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way. Luke 4:21-30

This episode took place in the synagogue of Nazareth. Jesus spoke about the Old Testament passage in Isaiah 61 and portrayed himself as the Messiah. Moreover he compared himself with the prophets Elijah and Elisha which to his Jewish listeners was a stark blasphemy and needed to be punished with death through stoning (cf. Lev 24:16).

South of Nazareth close to the Poor Clare Monastery and at the hill leading to the cloister Dair al – Banat stands the small Franciscan Church “Our Lady of Anguish” which was built in 1876 to commemorate the place from which Jesus was supposed to be thrown from the cliff. According to medieval rendering Mary imagined her son lying crashed at the bottom of the cliff.

The crusaders believed that Dschebel al-Kafze or mons saltus Domini (Mountain of the jump) was the place of the event described above. The oldest rendering of Dschebel al-Kafze as the cliff from which Jesus was supposed to be thrown hails from 808 in the Commemoratorium de casis Dei which holds that a monastery and church honoring Mary were built at the place. The Italian Franciscan Niccolo of Poggibonso (1346) writes: “When the crowd descended the cliff, the Virgin Mary was worried to death for her beloved Son so that she … languishing full of fear leaned at a grotto of the mount which offered her enough space to hide. The crowd walked past her and nobody noticed her. One can still see the place, i.e. its alcove which the mount offered her. In its place is now a beautiful convent and a church which is called Mary’s Anguish.”

XV. Magdûsha by Sidon

Mary’s visit in Magdûsha

Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. Mt 15:21

Mt reports that Jesus and his disciples were in the region of Tyre and Sidon where he fulfilled the wish of a Canaanite woman to heal her daughter who was demon-possessed. According to local tradition his Mother Mary accompanied him.

A mile south of Sidon close to the village Magdûsha we find the Marian pilgrimage place Sayidat al-Mantura, Notre dame de la Garde,. Near this village is a grotto where Mary supposedly stayed during this time. It was turned into a shrine honoring the Blessed Virgin Mary by Empress Helena. Jesus also supposedly visited his mother there before he returned to Galilee.
Due to the invasion of Islam this shrine had been neglected until the eighteenth century when pilgrims began to visit this place again. The altar and icon of Our Lady were discovered and were brought to the church of the village. However, the icon miraculously returned to its place of origin. This icon – supposedly painted by Luke – is still venerated by Christians and Muslims alike who make pilgrimages to this shrine and offer candles, hair and oil for the lights burning before the image of grace.

XVI. Via dolorosa in Jerusalem, Encounter between Mother and Son

"This is why I weep and my eyes overflow with tears.
No one is near to comfort me, no one to restore my spirit.
My children are destitute because the enemy has prevailed." …
What can I say for you? With what can I compare you, O Daughter of Jerusalem?
To what can I liken you, that I may comfort you, O Virgin Daughter of Zion?
Your wound is as deep as the sea. Who can heal you? Lamentation 1: 16;2:13

The fourth station of the cross commemorates the encounter between Mother and Son. The devotion of the Via Crucis was initiated after the crusades. In the thirteenth century it consisted of only three stations: 1. Jesus is condemned to death. 2. Jesus meets his Mother, 3. Jesus meets the weeping women (Lk 23:27f). At the beginning of the eighteenth century the number of stations increased to eleven with the fourth station being Jesus’ encounter with his mother. It was situated in the former Jehoshavat Street. Around 1855 the fourth station was commemorated at Valley Street where an Armenian-Catholic patriarchate and the Armenian-Catholic Church of Mary’s Dolors was erected in 1881. In its crypt is a mosaic from the seventh century showing two feet pointing north-east. Along the street is a small chapel called the fourth station. At its door a bust shows Christ and His Mother; it was sculpted by the Polish artist T. Zieliansky.

XVII. Golgotha, Mary’s Sorrows

Since the seventeenth century if not before at 4:30 pm each day the Franciscans intone seven of the twenty verses of the ‘Stabat Mater.’

At the cross her station keeping,
Stood the mournful Mother weeping,
Close to Jesus to the last.
Bruis'd, derided, curs'd, defil'd,
She beheld her tender child
All with bloody scourges rent.
For the sins of His own nation,
Saw Him hang in desolation,
Till His spirit forth He sent.
O thou Mother! fount of love!
Touch my spirit from above;
Make my heart with thine accord.
Make me feel as thou hast felt;
Make my soul to glow and melt
With the love of Christ our Lord
Let me mingle tears with thee,
Mourning Him who mourn'd for me,
All the days that I may live
By the cross with thee to stay,
There with thee to weep and pray,
Is all I ask of thee to give.

Stabat Mater dolorósa
Juxta Crucem lacrimósa,
Dum pendébat Filius.
Pro peccátis suae gentis
Vidit Jesum in torméntis,
Et flagéllis súbditum.
Vidit suum dulcem natum
Moriéndo desolátum,
Dum emisit spíritum.
Eja mater, fons amóris,
Me sentíre vim dolóris
Fac, ut tecum lúgeam.
Fac, ut árdeat cor meum
In amándo Christum Deum,
Ut sibi compláceam.
Fac me tecum pie flere,
Crucifixo condolére,
Donec ego víxero.
Juxta Crucem tecum stare,
Et me tibi sociáre
In planctu desídero.
Jacopone de Benedicti zu Todi (+1390)

(Church of the Holy Sepulcher)

Unlike some historical sacred sites, which disappointingly turn out to be based solely on pious tradition and not on historical fact, most historians and archaeologists agree that the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is located over the actual tomb of Christ.

In the center of the Holy Sepulchre Church, underneath the largest dome (recently renovated), is the Tomb of Christ itself, enshrined in a large, boxy chapel. The Armenians, the Latins and the Greeks offer their liturgical services daily inside the Holy Sepulchre. It is used for the Holy Saturday ceremony of the Holy Fire, which is celebrated by the Greek Orthodox Patriarch.

To its rear, within an ironwork cage-like structure, lies the altar used by the Coptic Orthodox. Past that, inside a very rough hewn chapel, the Assyrian Orthodox celebrate their liturgy on Sundays.

To the right of the sepulchre is the Roman Catholic area, which consists of a large square chapel and another private chapel for the Franciscan monks. Immediately in the front of the Sepulchre is what would be the main area of the church for the congregation, which has been walled off and used by the Greek Orthodox. It features a large iconostasis, and two thrones for the superior and the Patriarch.

Past that, there is the entrance area, which features the stone of annointing upon which Jesus' dead body is believed to have been prepared for burial. Up the stairs to the right of that area, is the most lavishly decorated part of the Church, the Chapel where Jesus is believed to have been crucified. This area is maintained by the Greek Orthodox, while the Roman Catholics have an altar to the side. Additionally, there is a subterranan chapel which is owned by the Armenians, which commemorates the finding of the True Cross.

XVIII. Garden of Olives, Christ's Ascension

After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. “Men of Galilee," they said, "why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven. Then they returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath day's walk from the city. When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying. Those present were Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James, son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers. " Acts 1:9-14

Luke is the only evangelist who mentions that Mary belonged to the circle of people who witnessed Christ’s Ascension and the Descent of the Holy Spirit. Among all those present Mary is especially mentioned as the Mother of Jesus.

Under the reign of the Byzantine Emperor Constantine I (306-337) three major churches were built in the Holy Land, among them the Eleona built on the initiative of Queen Helena, mother of Emperor Constantine on the Mount of Olives. The place from where Jesus Christ is believed to have ascended to His Father is very close to the Eleona where a pious lady by the name of Pomenia had a church built to commemorate Christ’s Ascension, on the Imbomon (On the Hill). The crusaders built an octagonal frame with pillars and at its center an octagonal chapel. In this chapel the rock from which Jesus is believed to have ascended is venerated.

After Jerusalem was ransacked by Salah ad-Dîn the church became a mosque. However, Christians of all denominations have obtained permission to celebrate their liturgies on the Feast of Ascension in the mosque to the left.

XIX. Jerusalem – the Upper Room

The first Pentecost

Then they returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath day's walk from the city. When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying. Those present were Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James, son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas, son of James. They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary, the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers. Acts 13:2ff

The Upper Room was a familiar place to the apostles. Here they celebrated the Last Supper. It must have been a large room of a house belonging to wealthy and generous people who offered this room to Jesus and his company. After the city was destroyed in 70AD, this house also fell in ruins.

Mary was present at the coming of the Holy Spirit and this event was without doubt a highpoint in her life. That which already was revealed to her alone in a dialogue at the Annunciation is now experienced in community.

The feast to which Mary and the apostles gathered in the Upper Room was a great pilgrim feast called Scharwoth - the Feast of Harvest (Ex 23:16; 34:22).

The history of the Upper Room where Mary and the apostles received the Holy Spirit is a tragic one. The crusaders had incorporated this Upper Room in the Basilica St. Mary of Mt. Zion. Franciscans cared for this church for more than two hundred years until they were exiled in 1551 by the Ottomans.

Today the Upper Room is bare and open to all visitors. Its dimensions are 49' x 29 1/2'

XX. Mount Athos

The jealous Lady on the Holy Mountain

The world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground. Heb 11:38

The religious tradition that the Virgin Mary visited the Holy Mountain Athos (Haghion Oros) is confirmed by al Athos Fathers. The orthodox monks, Greeks, Russians, Bulgarians and Serbs, never portray their holy mount without a rendering of the Theotokos whose throne they place at the top of the mountain. She is the heavenly Lady and Protectress of the monks.

Mount Athos is situated in the entire third, eastern and most beautiful peninsula of Halkidiki, called the peninsula of Athos. It is the only place in Greece that is completely dedicated to prayer and worship of God. For this reason, it is called the Holy Mount.

The Holy Mount is about fifty km in length, eight to twelve km in width and covers an area of about 350 square kilometers. The borders of the monasterial city are defined on the ground by an imaginary line that starts from the location "FRAGOKASTRO" in the West coast and reaches the cape "ARAPIS" in the opposite end. The natural beauty of the peninsula is extraordinary. The highest point of Mount Athos is like a huge cone, reaching 2033 meters in height. It’s a treeless crest that seems to lance the sky and its slopes are fully covered by ancient evergreens. All these help to create an area of incomparable natural beauty.

Mount Athos is the oldest monastic republic still in existence. Located on the Athos peninsula of Chalkidiki, in the Greek part of Macedonia, it was officially established in 963, when a monk named Athanasios the Athonite built the Monastery of the Great Lavra. However, anchorites had been living at the northern end of the Athos peninsula since the middle of the ninth century. In the centuries that followed, twenty monasteries were built, together with a number of smaller communities known as sketae. Nowadays, many monks live in kellia, kalyves, kathismata, and hesychasteria, which are various forms of small monastic communities or hermitages. The administrative centre of Mount Athos is the village of Karyes.

Medieval Athos tradition attests that Mary intended to sail from Jaffa to Cypress in order to visits Lazarus from Bethany. Due to his four-day supernatural experiences (cf. Jn 11:17), Lazarus suffered many persecutions and retired to Larnaca in Cypern where he also died. Mary, accompanied by John, set out on her voyage and on the way their boat was tossed by a severe storm and stranded at the peninsula Athos. They landed at the port of Clementos, at that time home of the Temple with the oracle of Apollo, now of the monastery Iviron. As soon as the Blessed Virgin Mary set foot on the island, all idols of the area began to speak commanding everyone to hurry to the port in order to venerate Mary. According to tradition all inhabitants of Athos asked to be baptized. Thereupon the Virgin Mary claimed the island as her property entrusted to her by her Son. At the same time she decreed that no woman may henceforth live on the island. As sovereign empress she ruled that all monks would be her subjects whose unconditional service she demanded.

From the fifteenth century it has been reported that the Christian sultan Mara, daughter of the Serb Prince George Brankoviç, wanted to visit Mount Athos. In 1433 she married Sultan Murad II. Her intent was to offer to the monks of the St. Paul monastery the precious gifts of the three wise men: gold, myrrh and frankincense. As she approached the monastery she heard a voice telling her: “Do not go any further because here rules another queen, the Queen of Heaven.” Though she did not see anybody, she followed the voice. The monks then came towards her to receive the gifts; Mara then returned to her boat.

The Athos monks experience the presence of Mary through their miraculous icons. For example the icons Panagia Portaitissa (The Blessed Virgin Mary as Custodian) from the Iviron monastery and Panagia Oikonomissa (Administrator) of Lavra always provided for the monks throughout the centuries. The icons Panagia Antiphonétria (the one who forbids) from the Kastamonitou monastery and Panagia Gerontissa (the senior of the monastery) provided the oil for all monasteries. The monks of the Serb monastery Chilandariou consider Panagia Tricherousa (Blessed Virgin Mary with three hands) their spiritual as well as economic superior. During meals this icon receives the best food. Likewise, the Bulgarian monks from the Zographou monastery consider the Panagia Epakuousa (the one who warns in advance) as their superior.

The orthodox monk considers the icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary as a visible incarnation of the one who is portrayed. She is present in the icon. The one who prays before this icon senses her presence; those who believe assign to these icons a miraculous character: they can speak, act and even move.
The most venerable object on Mount Athos is the belt of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which is found at the Holy Great Monastery of Vatopedi; for the monks it is the only precious souvenir that survives from her earthly life. According to tradition, the Most Holy Theotokos three days after she fell asleep rose from the dead and ascended in body to the heavens. During her ascension, she gave her Holy Belt to the Apostle Thomas. Thomas, along with the rest of the holy Apostles, opened up her grave and didn't find the body of the Theotokos.

The Holy Belt, according to the tradition, was made by the Blessed Virgin Mary herself with camel hair. The Empress Zoi, wife of Leo 6 the Wise, out of gratitude for her miraculous cure, embroidered the belt with gold thread, as it is found today, but divided in three pieces. Originally it was being kept in Jerusalem and later in Constantinople. There during the twelfth century under Manuel A' Komninos (1143-1180) an official holiday for the belt was established on August 31. In the end, Emperor John the 6th Katakouzinos (1347-1355), who had a special love toward the Holy Great Monastery of Vatopedi, as is evidenced by many related accounts, donated the belt to the Monastery. Since then the holy belt is kept at the Holy Monastery of Vatopedi, in a silver case of newer manufacture which depicts the Monastery. On the bottom right border of the depiction the artist made the drawing of the donor Emperor Katakouzinos along with a sign which refers to his donation to the Monastery. Numerous are the miracles, that have taken place up to today with the holy belt.

XXI. Panaya Kapulu by Ephesus

Mary’sDdivine Maternity

Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, "Dear woman, here is your son," and to the disciple, "Here is your mother." From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.
Jn 19:25-27

(Mary's House is Ephesus)

In 431 the dogma of the Theotokos was defined at the Third Ecumenical Council in Ephesus. In 1931, commemorating the 1500 anniversary of the dogma, Pius XI introduced the Feast of Mary’s Maternity which was celebrated on October 11. However, the feast was already celebrated regionally from the seventeenth century on. Since Vatican II the feast was moved to January 1.

As to tradition, there is some testimony for Mary's temporary residence in or near Ephesus, but the evidence for her permanent home in Jerusalem is much stronger.

Arguments for Ephesus – Mary's Ephesian residence rests on the following evidence:

(1) A passage in the synodal letter of the Council of Ephesus reads "Wherefore also Nestorius, the instigator of the impious heresy, when he had come to the city of the Ephesians, where John the Theologian and the Virgin Mother of God St. Mary, estranging himself of his own accord from the gathering of the holy Fathers and Bishops. . ." Since St. John had lived in Ephesus and had been buried there, it has been inferred that the ellipsis of the synodal letter means either, "where John. . .and the Virgin. . .Mary lived," or, "where John. . .and the Virgin. . .Mary lived and are buried."

(2) Bar-Hebraeus or Abulpharagius, a Jacobite bishop of the thirteenth century, relates that St. John took the Blessed Virgin with him to Patmos, then founded the Church of Ephesus, and buried Mary no one knows where.

(3) Benedict XIV states that Mary followed St. John to Ephesus and died there. He intended also to remove from the Breviary those lessons which mention Mary's death in Jerusalem, but died before carrying out his intention.

(4) Mary's temporary residence and death in Ephesus are upheld by such writers as Tillemont, Calmet, etc.

(5) In Panaghia Kapoli, on a hill about nine or ten miles distant from Ephesus, was discovered a house, or rather its remains, in which Mary is supposed to have lived. The house was found, as it had been sought, according to the indications given by Catherine Emmerich in her life of the Blessed Virgin.

Arguments against Ephesus – On closer inspection these arguments for Mary's residence or burial in Ephesus are not unanswerable.

(1) The ellipsis in the synodal letter of the Council of Ephesus may be filled out in such a way as not to imply the assumption that Our Blessed Lady either lived or died in Ephesus. As there was in the city a double church dedicated to the Virgin Mary and to St. John, the incomplete clause of the synodal letter may be completed so as to read, "where John the Theologian and the Virgin Mary have a sanctuary." This explanation of the ambiguous phrase is one of the two suggested in the margin in Labbe's Collect. Concil. (l.c.)

(2) The words of Bar-Hebraeus contain two inaccurate statements; for St. John did not found the Church of Ephesus, nor did he take Mary with him to Patmos. St. Paul founded the Ephesian Church, and Mary was dead before John's exile in Patmos. It would not be surprising, therefore, if the writer were wrong in what he says about Mary's burial. Besides, Bar-Hebraeus belongs to the thirteenth century; the earlier writers had been most anxious about the sacred places in Ephesus; they mention the tomb of St. John and of a daughter of Philip, but they say nothing about Mary's burying place.

(3) As to Benedict XIV, this great pontiff is not so emphatic about Mary's death and burial in Ephesus, when he speaks about her Assumption in heaven.

(4) Neither Benedict XIV nor the other authorities who uphold the Ephesian claims advance any argument that has not been found inconclusive by other scientific students of this question.

(5) The house found in Panaghia-Kapouli is of any weight only insofar as it is connected with the visions of Catherine Emmerich. Its distance from the city of Ephesus creates a presumption against its being the home of the Apostle St. John. The historical value of Catherine's visions is not universally admitted. Mgr. Timoni, Archbishop of Smyrna, writes concerning Panaghia-Kapouli: "Every one is entirely free to keep his personal opinion." Finally the agreement of the condition of the ruined house in Panaghia-Kapouli with Catherine's description does not necessarily prove the truth of her statement as to the history of the building.

Arguments against Jerusalem – 

Two considerations militate against a permanent residence of Our Lady in Jerusalem: first, it has already been pointed out that St. John did not permanently remain in the Holy City; secondly, the Jewish Christians are said to have left Jerusalem during the periods of Jewish persecution (cf. Acts 8:1; 12:1). But as St. John cannot be supposed to have taken Our Lady with him on his apostolic expeditions, we may suppose that he left her in the care of his friends or relatives during the periods of his absence. And there is little doubt that many of the Christians returned to Jerusalem, after the storms of persecution had abated.

Arguments for Jerusalem – Independently of these considerations, we may appeal to the following reasons in favor of Mary's death and burial in Jerusalem:

(1) In 451 Juvenal, Bishop of Jerusalem, testified to the presence of Mary's tomb in Jerusalem. It is strange that neither St. Jerome, nor the Pilgrim of Bordeaux, nor again pseudo-Silvia give any evidence of such a sacred place. But when the Emperor Marcion and the Empress Pulcheria asked Juvenal to send the sacred remains of the Virgin Mary from their tomb in Gethsemani to Constantinople, where they intended to dedicate a new church to Our Lady, the bishop cited an ancient tradition saying that the sacred body had been assumed into heaven, and sent to Constantinople only the coffin and the winding sheet. This narrative rests on the authority of a certain Euthymius whose report was inserted into a homily of St. John Damascene now read in the second Nocturn of the fourth day within the octave of the Assumption. Scheeben is of opinion that Euthymius's words are a later interpolation: they do not fit into the context; they contain an appeal to pseudo-Dionysius which are not otherwise cited before the sixth century; and they are suspicious in their connection with the name of Bishop Juvenal, who was charged with forging documents by Pope St. Leo. In his letter the pontiff reminds the bishop of the holy places which he has under his very eyes, but does not mention the tomb of Mary. Allowing that this silence is purely incidental, the main question remains, how much historic truth underlies the Euthymian account of the words of Juvenal?

(2) Here must be mentioned too the apocryphal "Historia dormitionis et assumptionis B.M.V.," which claims St. John for its author. Tischendorf believes that the substantial parts of the work go back to the fourth, perhaps even to the second, century. Variations of the original text appeared in Arabic and Syriac, and in other languages; among these must be noted a work called "De transitu Mariae Virg.," which appeared under the name of St. Melito of Sardes. Pope Gelasius enumerates this work among the forbidden books. The extraordinary incidents which these works connect with the death of Mary do not concern us here, but they place her last moments and her burial in or near Jerusalem.

(3) Another witness for the existence of a tradition placing the tomb of Mary in Gethsemani is the basilica erected above the sacred spot, about the end of the fourth or the beginning of the fifth century. The present church was built by the Latins in the same place in which the old edifice had stood.

(4) In the early part of the seventh century, Modestus, Bishop of Jerusalem, located the passing of Our Lady on Mount Sion, in the house which contained the Cenacle and the upper room of Pentecost. At that time, a single church covered the localities consecrated by these various mysteries. One must wonder at the late evidence for a tradition which became so general since the seventh century.

(5) Another tradition is preserved in the "Commemoratorium de Casis Dei" addressed to Charlemagne. It places the death of Mary on Mt. Olivet where a church is said to commemorate this event. Perhaps the writer tried to connect Mary's passing with the Church of the Assumption as the sister tradition connected it with the cenacle. At any rate, we may conclude that about the beginning of the fifth century there existed a fairly general tradition that Mary had died in Jerusalem, and had been buried in Gethsemani. This tradition appears to rest on a more solid basis than the report that Our Lady died and was buried in or near Ephesus. As thus far historical documents are wanting, it would be hard to establish the connection of either tradition with apostolic times.


It has been seen that we have no absolute certainty as to the place in which Mary lived after the day of Pentecost. Though it is more probable that she remained uninterruptedly in or near Jerusalem, she may have resided for a while in the vicinity of Ephesus, and this may have given rise to the tradition of her Ephesian death and burial. There is still less historical information concerning the particular incidents of her life. St. Epiphanius doubts even the reality of Mary's death, but the universal belief of the Church does not agree with the private opinion of St. Epiphanius. Mary's death was not necessarily the effect of violence; it was undergone neither as an expiation or penalty, nor as the effect of disease from which, like her Divine Son, she was exempt. Since the Middle Ages the view prevails that she died of love, her great desire to be united to her Son either dissolving the ties of body and soul, or prevailing on God to dissolve them. Her passing away is a sacrifice of love completing the dolorous sacrifice of her life. It is the death in the kiss of the Lord (in osculo Domini), of which the just die. There is no certain tradition as to the year of Mary's death. Baronius in his Annals relies on a passage in the Chronicon of Eusebius for his assumption that Mary died A.D. 48. It is now believed that the passage of the Chronicon is a later interpolation. Nirschl relies on a tradition found in Clement of Alexandria and Apollonius which refers to a command of Our Lord that the Apostles were to preach twelve years in Jerusalem and Palestine before going among the nations of the world; hence he too arrives at the conclusion that Mary died A.D. 48.
(Catholic Encyclopedia)


Explanation of the above icon: Christ, standing behind the Theotokos, is her Son, Who has come to receive His Mother's soul into heaven; He holds in His left arm an infant in white, symbolizing the soul of the Theotokos; Christ appears in an aureole (elongated halo) depicting the Light of His Divinity. The Apostles are depicted on either side of the bier stand the Apostles; the group on the left is led by St. Peter who stands at the head of the bier; the group on the right is led by St. Paul who stands at the foot of the bier.

On this day the holy Virgin, Mother of God, went to her heavenly reward. … As the hour approached … the apostles and virgins asked for her blessing. She did so lifting her arm. Then Christ took her blissful soul, veiled her in a radiant robe and ascended with her. … The apostles however ordered that her body should be wrapped and be carried it to Gethsemane. … Then the Holy Spirit addressed them: “Behold, the Lord does not wish that her body should remain here on earth.” The Lord had promised his apostles that He would allow them to see Mary once more in her earthly body. Everyone waited for the fulfillment of this promise until 16. Misra (August 22). Mary’s time on earth lasted 60 years. (Coptic Synaxar, 21. Tûbah; January 29).

Whereas the western Byzantin-Orthodox churches commemorate Mary’s dormitio and her assumption into heaven on one day, the Christians of the Coptic and Ethiopian churches celebrate these events on two distinct days: January 29 and August 22. The reason for the later could possibly be the apocryphal text according to which Mary’s body and soul were separated for 206 days before they were united in heaven.

From the fourth century on the western elevation of Jerusalem has been erroneously called Zion. Originally, Zion was a fortress of the Jebusites which after its conquest by David was named City of David (2 Sam 5:7). With the transfer of the Ark of the Covenant and the building of the temple the East elevation of the city Morija was referred to as Zion (cf. Is 8:18; 18:7 etc). When Herod the Great ordered his palace to be built on the west hill, both names (David’s City and Zion) were transferred to this place.

According to Christian tradition the Upper Room and the Cenacle (location of the Last Supper and Descent of the Holy Spirit) was in the south-west part of David’s City. Very early the location of the last Supper was identified with the ‘Upper Room’ on Mt. Zion (cf. Mk 14:15). Bishop Epiphanius (315-403) reports that Emperor Hadrian went there around 130 AD but found that everything was destroyed “except for some houses and a small church of God … where the disciples after they returned from Christ’s Ascension went to the Upper Room, namely to Zion.”

In the fourth century, the Hagia Sion, a church with five naves was erected on top of this small church. The crusaders built another church which they called St. Mary of Mt. Zion. The chapel in the north nave was dedicated to Mary’s Assumption and the one in the south nave commemorated the Last Supper. Franciscans guarded this church until in 1552 they were tragically expelled by the Turks.

The Church of Dormition on Mount Zion was built at the beginning of this century on the remains of previous churches built during the Byzantine and Crusader periods.

On the apse of the Upper Church is a mosaic of the Panagia Hodigitria (The Blessed Virgin Mary – the One who shows the way). All altars are dedicated to the Heavenly Queen: Queen of the East, Queen of Pilgrims, Queen of Monks, Queen of the West, Queen of Prophets, Queen of Patriarchs. The crypt is dedicated to Mary’s dormition. Six medallions in the cupola show six women of the Old Testament who await their redemption through the intercession of Mary: Eve, Miriam (Num 12), Jael (Jud 5:26), Ruth, Judith and Esther. The side altars bear images of Mary’s assumption and of the mysteries of the rosary.

XXIII. Gethsemane

Mary’s Assumption into Heaven

"The Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory." Pius XII. Munificentissimus Deus. November 1, 1950, 44.

According to one of the oldest traditions of Mary’s Assumption rendered in the apocrypha Transitus A from the seventh century, Mary, whose body radiated a strong light, was buried by the apostles in a vault. At that very moment Mary’s body was assumed into heaven. Thomas, who arrived late for the burial, saw Mary being lifted upwards and prayed to her. As a sign of her favor, she dropped her belt for him to keep.

From the very beginning Christians wondered about the body of Our Lady after her dormition. Paschasius Radbertus in 866 recalling the silence of the biblical texts commented: “The feast of the Assumption commemorates only that Mary was assumed into heaven. … What happened to the body is secondary.”

The anonymous writer of “De Assumptione Beatae Mariae Virginis” is the first Western theologian who laid the foundation for the dogma of Mary’s Assumption with body and soul without taking recourse to the legendary apocryphal texts. He was of the opinion that Mary’s body did not undergo corruption. Many others, among them Peter Damian and Thomas Aquinas, joined him in this conviction.

For the majority of theologians (Bishop Willibald of Eichstaett, Isidor of Seville, Bede, the Venerable, Andrew of Crete, Germanos I of Constantinople, John Damascene, et. al.) of from the west and the orthodox churches Mary’s Assumption took place in Jerusalem.

All About Mary includes a variety of content, much of which reflects the expertise, interpretations and opinions of the individual authors and not necessarily of the Marian Library or the University of Dayton. Please share feedback or suggestions with


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