Seven gilded onion domes, each topped by a tall Russian Orthodox cross, make the Church of St Mary Magdalene one of Jerusalem’s most picturesque sights. It makes an especially striking spectacle at night, when its floodlit domes seem to be floating above the dark trees that surround it.
The Church of Mary Magdalene was built in 1888 by Czar Alexander III of Russia, as a memorial to his mother the Empress Maria Alexandrovna. Mary Magdalene is venerated with particular devotion in the East Orthodox Church, which believes that Mary was not a prostitute as some streams of Christianity have claimed, but was instead a virtuous woman her entire life. Other than Mary of Bethany, Mary Magdalene was the only female disciple of Jesus-and some believe that the women are one and the same. Lavishly sculpted of white sandstone and situated in a lush garden, the church is an idyllic retreat from the bustle of present-day Jerusalem.
Inside, nineteenth-century oil lamps illuminate paintings by Alexander Ivanoff and Vereshaguine, famous Russian artists of the period. Icons characteristic of the East Orthodox church adorn the interior. Buried within the church is Princess Elizabeth Feodorovna, who was partly instrumental in the building of the church during her life, and expressed a wish to be buried there. Her wish was granted prematurely, as she met a violent death during the Russian Revolution of 1917. Today she is considered a martyr. The Church of Mary Magdalene is a place of daily worship for the nuns of the convent of Mary Magdalene, an order of about 40 women. According to Christian tradition, the surrounding caves in the Garden of Gethsemane were used by Jesus and his disciples for prayer, learning and relaying some of the parables that have been recorded in the New Testament. This includes the Olivet Prophecy, which foretold the destruction of Jerusalem.