The church with the (empty) Tomb of the Virgin Mary is at the foot of the Mount of Olives. Waving proudly outside is the Armenian flag as the Apostolic Church manages the sanctuary together with the Greek Orthodox. Every day, large groups of people descent the steep stone stairs into the dark to visit the site. Eastern Christianity teaches that the Virgin Mary died a natural death 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.
At the day I visited the church several religious services were held around the tomb. On the left stood a number of Coptic priests singing and praying – accompanied by a small group of devoted ladies with white head scarfs and candles. In front of the tomb a fairly large group of Armenians prepared themselves for their service, their ranks could be recognized by the color and type of their clothing (varying from pink, mint green to black). They also start their prayers, singing and ringing bells. Combining it with a somewhat complicated choreography that uses the entire floor of the church, including the stairs and was graced with candles. Although they share the same church and both venerate St. Mary, I could hardly avoid the impression that they are also competing each other. The Armenians, so much larger in number and volume, came out as undisputed winner.
Pictures were taken on 22 September 2012