The Church of Mary Magdalene
Location - The Mount of Olives
Map Coordinates - 31.778949, 35.240836
Some believe that the crypt below me (see the photo above) was once the tomb of Mary Magdalene - perhaps a cenotaph (commemorative tomb).
One of the most prominent landmarks on the Mount of Olives is the Russian Orthodox Church of Mary Magdalene, with its seven gold onion domes, each topped by a tall Russian Orthodox cross. It makes an especially striking spectacle at night when its floodlit domes seem to be floating above the dark trees that surround it. These domes reflect the architecture of Moscow during the 16th and 17th centuries. Above the entrance is a circular blue mosaic depicting Mary Magdalene robed in white.
The church was built in 1888 by Czar Alexander III of Russia in memory of his mother, Empress Maria Alexandrovna, whose patron saint was Mary Magdalene.
The convent is a thriving community of 30 nuns from all over the world: Russians, Americans, Australians, Arabs, Serbs, and Romanians. While particularly known for the quality of their liturgical singing, they also paint icons, embroider ritual garments, and decorate Russian eggs. They also make incense for use in the church and for private prayer. All these items are available at the monastery kiosk.
Who was Mary Magdalene?
Mary Magdalene was originally from the town of Magdala on the western shore of Lake Galilee. It is said that Jesus exorcised seven demons from her, for which she was grateful, and, in response, became one of His most loyal and honored disciples. She was the first person to whom Jesus revealed Himself after His resurrection. She was also one of the few persons named in the Gospels as being present at Christ’s crucifixion.
The Gospel of Luke lists Mary Magdalene as one of the women who traveled with Jesus and helped support his ministry "out of their resources", indicating that she was probably wealthy. There is a legend that claims that Mary Magdalene had traveled to southern France and died there. Another legend says that she died in Ephesus.
The Interior of the Church.
In contrast to the exterior, the interior of the Church of Saint Mary Magdalene is rather plain. The walls are covered with designs, predominantly in shades of brown. The white marble and bronze iconostasis holds paintings of the four Evangelists, the Virgin Mary, and the archangel Gabriel.
The Remains of Mary Magdalene.
In a glass case on the right side of the nave is a rib, believed to be part of the remains of Mary Magdalene herself. Other relics of Mary Magdalene are said to exist in Catholic churches in France, an Orthodox monastery in Greece, and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.
Here in a glass case I am pointing to a bone that is labeled "Mary Magdalene”.
The Crypt Below the Church
In the crypt I discovered a stone ossuary (bone box) containing human remains. The Greek inscription on the outside has the name “Saphira Ptolatos” - perhaps a resident of an ancient local Christian community.
Also buried in this crypt, among several others, are the remains of Princess Alice of Greece who harbored Jews during the Nazi occupation of Greece.
A stone ossuary containing human remains. I am holding part of a skull fragment.