The Orthodox Birthplace of Mary
This is where the Virgin Mary was Born
Location – Jerusalem
Map Coordinates - 31.780878, 35.236704
Occasionally this church is closed, but all of our Octagon Tour groups appreciate seeing the spot where Mary was born.
Very close to the Via Dolorosa in the Old City of Jerusalem, there is a small chapel which the Orthodox Church claims is built over the site where Mary, the mother of Jesus, was born. This church exists in the shadow of the larger and more popular Catholic Church of Saint Anne, which also makes the same claim – that Mary was born there. Like its Catholic counterpart next door, this church has a crypt underneath which goes down to the original level of first-century Jerusalem. What adds to the authenticity of this shrine is the fact that you must descend into a crypt in order to view the ancient site. That’s because the city of Jerusalem was built up over a period of time, and the only way to see anything original would be to go down to the level of the primitive city.
This small chapel has the typical configuration of an Orthodox church. There is an iconostasis, or icon stand, in the front of the church, with the high altar behind it that only the priests are allowed to enter. Like all of the other Orthodox churches, it is a feast for the eyes with its icons, frescos, oil lanterns and incense.
The Upper Crypt.
The staircase that takes you into the home of Joachim and Anne.
The first photo in this chapter shows you the room in which Mary was born. The niche altar on the right is the traditional place of her birth. Your first stop down the staircase is a room where it is believed that Mary was born. But how do we know that? The crypt is very rustic and primitive - definitely first century BC. If that’s true, then it is equally true that part of the home of Mary’s parents, Anne and Joachim, was a cave – a natural space that provided for them a cool and secure place to live. Their entire home may not have been a cave, but at the point that Mary was delivered, Anne and her midwives and Joachim probably all retired into this most-private part of the home.
We know that Mary lived in Jerusalem for about eleven years after the day that Jesus ascended into Heaven. According to the Book of Acts, all of the Apostles did. During this time, the church was growing very rapidly in Jerusalem.
Consider what this means. It is very likely that Mary spent a lot of time recounting many stories to the early Believers. Why was the early Church convinced that this was the place where Mary was born? It is probably because this was a part of her own history, the home of her parents, and the place of her birth. She probably visited this spot several times, and she may have taken some friends with her. Eleven years is a long time to tell and retell many of these stories to a large and growing fellowship of early disciples.
The fact that both the Catholic and the Orthodox churches confirm that Mary was born in this vicinity strongly suggests that Mary herself did convey this to the early Church. And this likely scenario elevates the level of our own assurance. It means that we are probably standing only a few feet away from where Mary was born.
The Lower Crypt.
This room is so far underground that it often floods down here. We know that the birth of Mary is not a Biblical event, but this story is told in detail in the Protoevangelium of James – or shall we say the First Gospel of James. This book alleges to have been written by Jesus’ brother, also called James the Just, who was the first Bishop of Jerusalem. That may be true, but even if it wasn’t true, it could very well contain the teachings and early memories that were passed down from James. For the most part, this book is an historically reliable document, and it could very well contain an accurate rendition of the events immediately prior to the birth of Jesus.
The early Christians in Jerusalem remembered and passed along many things that Mary taught them. And at the onset of the Byzantine era, when Christianity became legal, building this church probably became one of their top building priorities.