Jerusalem is home to many sacred sites and churches, and a visitor to Israel will discover that many of these churches are built on or near a significant event in the life of Jesus Christ.
The Church of Mary Magdalene, one of the most iconic of all the churches in Jerusalem, is seated on the western slope of the Mount of Olives. The church’s white sandstone façade and its seven, gold, onion-shaped domes gleaming in the sun are easy to identify from almost any vantage point. According to Mark 16:9, Mary Magdalene was the first to see the risen Christ after His resurrection.
Constructed in 1888 by Czar Alexander III and his brothers in honor of their mother—whose patron saint was Mary Magdalene—the church is solidly Russian Revival style, reflective of Russian architecture in the 16th and 17th centuries.
Above the church entrance, visitors are greeted by a circular blue medallion depicting Mary Magdalene in white. The interior is a blend of bronze and white marble
iconostasis, a wall or screen bearing religious icons that separates the sanctuary from the nave, or the central part of a church, where the congregation usually sits.
The icons, painted by renowned Russian artist Sergei Ivanov, depict the Four Evangelists: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, the archangel Gabriel, and Mary, the mother of Jesus. There are also vignettes of the life of Mary Magdalene.
There are two sarcophagi on either side of the church’s nave, containing the bodies of the Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna—who became a nun after the assassination of her husband—and her friend and fellow nun, Sister Barbara, both canonized by the Orthodox Church as martyrs.
The remains of Princess Alice of Greece—the mother of the late Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, and the niece of the Grand Duchess Elizabeth—are also buried in the crypt below the church.
Currently, there are 30 Orthodox nuns who live in the church’s convent, and are talented artisans who paint icons, embroider vestments and other items for liturgical use. They are especially known around the world for their hand-painted Russian eggs.
If you are planning a visit, it is important to note the visitation hours are somewhat restrictive, so be sure to check before you go. Women are advised to wear a head covering before entering the church. And be sure not to miss the beautiful garden which surrounds the church.
Take in the grand architecture and beautiful grounds of the Church of Mary Magdalene!
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