The Tomb of the Virgin Mary, also Church of the Sepulchre of Saint Mary, is a traditional Holy Land site of Eastern Christianity whom hold the belief that the Virgin Mary died a natural human death; and that her soul was received by Christ upon death; and that her body was resurrected on the third day, at which time she was taken up, soul and body, into heaven. Her tomb, according to this teaching, was found empty on the third day.
Roman Catholic hold the belief that Mary was assumed into heaven in bodily form, the Assumption; the question of whether or not Mary actually underwent physical death remains open in the Catholic view.
The Scriptures provide no information about the end of Mary's life or the place of burial, but there are as many as 50 early Biblical apocrypha about Mary’s final fate at time of her resting. Several places have claimed the right of where Mary’s death occurred, including as far away in Ephesus, Turkey however claims here have been strongly disputed since the 5th century.
The tomb of Christ at the Holy Sepulchre was carved out by quarrying out surrounding rock by Emperor Constantine, and a similar quarrying process was made at the Tomb of the Virgin Mary at the Mount of Olives in 455. The first mention of the Tomb was written around the 6th century. In commemorating Mary’s death a round church was built above the tomb by Maurice Tiberius (582-602), and after destroyed by the Persians in 614.
The church was then reconstructed after the visit of the Holy Land pilgrim Arculf in 680. He provided historical accounts of the holy land in De Locis Sanctis including his description of Mary's Tomb that the church had two levels, both being round with the upper level having 4 altars, the lower level with an east altar and the tomb of Mary on its right. A 9th-century church record records that the church was staffed by 34 members of religious order.
At the time of the Crusaders arrival to the Holy Land, all they found was rubble. The Crusaders reconstructed the church in 1130 along with a Benedictine monastery making the complex of the Abbey Church of St. Mary of Jehoshaphat. Yet shortly after in 1187, Saladin destroyed most of the upper church and quarried the stones to repair the city walls for fortification, while leaving the lower level completely untouched. The church was taken over by Franciscans after the Crusaders left, and has since been shared by many religious factions and nationalities, and the tomb location since owned by the Greek Orthodox Church, while the grotto of Gethsemane has remained in the possession of Franciscans.
Today on an Israel tour you’ll find steps from the street descend into a square shape courtyard containing the upper church, with an 1130 a.c. portal, and eight marble columns supporting its pointed arch.
In the church leading down a staircase of 47 steps you’ll find the tomb of Queen Melisende, placed here on her death in 1161. The stairs and walls, and windows of this section were made in the 12th century, and at the bottom of the stairs is the 5th century Byzantine crypt, with original Byzantine masonry. This lower section of the church provides a feel of great antiquity with blackened walls from smoke of years of burning lanterns, and opulently decorated with Christian icons.
The tomb of Mary here is very similar to Jesus at the tomb in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Mary’s tomb is marked by a small square chapel with an altar inside the tomb concealing the remains of a bench tomb which could date back to the 1st century. An alter to the west and a longer rock alter facing the east marks Mary’s tomb.
While Mary’s tomb is not a popular Holy Land tour site for Western Christians, it is still worth the effort to try and visit this iconic site dedicated to the remembrance of the mother of God.