TOMB of the VIRGIN MARY
The Sacred Tradition of Eastern Christianity teaches that the Virgin Mary died a natural death (the Dormition of the Theotokos, the falling asleep), like any human being; that her soul was received by Christ upon death; and that her body was resurrected on the third day after her repose, at which time she was taken up, soul and body, into heaven in anticipation of the general resurrection. Her tomb, according to this teaching, was found empty on the third day. Roman Catholic teaching holds that Mary was “assumed” into heaven in bodily form, the Assumption; the question of whether or not Mary actually underwent physical death remains open in the Catholic view; however, most theologians believe that she did undergo death before her Assumption.
A narrative known as the Euthymiaca Historia (written probably by Cyril of Scythopolis in the 5th century) relates how the Emperor Marcian and his wife, Pulcheria, requested the relics of the Virgin Mary from Juvenal, the Patriarch of Jerusalem, while he was attending the Council of Chalcedon (451). According to the account, Juvenal replied that, on the third day after her burial, Mary’s tomb was discovered to be empty, only her shroud being preserved in the church of Gethsemane.
According to another tradition it was the Cincture of the Virgin Mary which was left behind in the tomb.
Preceded by a walled courtyard to the south, the cruciform church shielding the tomb has been excavated in an underground rock-cut cave entered by a wide descending stair dating from the 12th century. On the left side of the staircase (towards the west) there is the chapel of Saint Joseph, Mary’s husband, while on the right (towards the east) there is the chapel of Mary’s parents, Joachim and Anne, holding also the tomb of Queen Melisende of Jerusalem.
On the eastern side of the church there is the chapel of Mary’s tomb. Altars of the Greeks and Armenians also share the east apse. A niche south of the tomb is a mihrab indicating the direction of Mecca, installed when Muslims had joint rights to the church. On the western side there is a Coptic altar.
The Greek Orthodox Church of Jerusalem is in possession of the shrine, sharing it with the Armenian Apostolic Church. The Syriacs, the Copts, and the Abyssinians have minor rights. Muslims also have a special place for prayer (the mihrab).
A legend, which was first mentioned by Epiphanius of Salamis in the 4th century AD, purported that Mary may have spent the last years of her life in Ephesus. The Ephesians derived it from John’s presence in the city, and Jesus’ instructions to John to take care of Mary after his death. Epiphanius, however, pointed out that although the Bible mentions John leaving for Asia, it makes no mention of Mary going with him. The Eastern Orthodox Church tradition believes that Virgin Mary lived in the vicinity of Ephesus, where there is a place currently known as the House of the Virgin Mary and venerated by Catholics and Muslims, but argues that she only stayed there for a few years; this teaching is based on the writings of the Holy Fathers.
Although many Christians believe that no information about the end of Mary’s life or her burial are provided in the New Testament accounts or early apocrypha, there are actually over 50 apocryphon about Mary’s death (or other final fate). The 3rd century Book of John about the Dormition of Mary places her tomb in Gethsemene, as does the 4th century Treatise about the passing of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
The Breviarius of Jerusalem, a short text written in about AD 395, mentions in that valley the basilica of Holy Mary, which contains her sepulchre.Later, Saints Epiphanius of Salamis, Gregory of Tours, Isidore of Seville, Modest, Sophronius of Jerusalem, German of Constantinople, Andrew of Crete, and John of Damascus talk about the tomb being in Jerusalem, and bear witness that this tradition was accepted by all the Churches of East and West.
Certain New Age spiritualists believe that another tomb of the Virgin Mary is located in Pakistan, in the present day mountain town of Murree, a town originally named Mari. Proponents claim that Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary travelled to India after escaping the crucifixion, where they remained until the end of their lives. The authenticity of these claims is not academically established and has never merited any scholastic or academic research, nor canonical endorsement from the Holy See, nor anyone else.
The name Murree is derived from ‘marhi’, “high place”.