The entrance to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (or the Church of the Resurrection) is from the south. We are all familiar with the square situated between the Mosque of Omar and the smaller Armenian and Ethiopian churches. The square leads southwards through embellished Crusader gates, directly to the Stone of Unction. Not everyone is aware that the original entrance to the church was in fact from the east. Anyone who studied Christianity knows that churches face the rising sun in the east, thus easing the pagan worshipers into a monotheist belief. This means the entrance to most churches in the world is from the west.
Naturally, every rule has an exception, such as: the church of St. Peter in Jaffa facing west as a bold statement of spreading the word of Christ overseas. It comes as quite a surprise that the most important church in the world was originally constructed with an opposite entrance, meaning: from the east facing the west.
The pilgrim would first come across the site where the crucifixion occurred (Calvary), from that point proceeding to an open court, he'd continue west towards the Rotunda, Christ's place of sepulchre and resurrection.
Nowadays the eastern entrance is marked by Zalatimo Sweets shop on Bab Khan Al-Zeit St. On the Christian Quarter road, on its northern part andits eastern side, a gate sealed by a brick wall can be seen. The gate seals offthe Church of the Holy Sepulchre from the west. There is no doubt this is a Crusader gate designed as part ofthe general layout of the grand southern gates and the bell tower. The pillow-shaped voussoirs, the pointed arch and the overall appearance indicate this clearly. This site is defiantly a portal to the Patriarch's complex situated on the northern part of the church. Nowadays this is part of the Al-Khanka Mosque, having been converted toliving quarters for Sufi monks by Saladin after conquering Jerusalem in 1187.
The Latin Patriarchate Palace attached to the Anastasis on the north, was probably in existence since the Constantinopolitan church. The same as in other Crusader sites, there is an attempt to join the single structures (the crucifixion, the finding of the cross by Helena, the Sepulcher and the Resurrection) by slightly modifying onthe inside, but mainly by framing the complex on the outside. In this case a façade was built including the series of gates which our gate is a part of (all be it to the side), as an entrance to the Patriarch's complex.
So why Mary? And how old is Mary's chapel attached to the Patriarch's living quarters, which may be associated with our gate? Obviously there are many sites referring to Mary's role in the crucifixion. Out of the three chapels attached to the Anastasi from south-west, dedicated to St. John, the Holy Trinity and Jacob, one may have been dedicated in the past to Mary (themiddle one). These chapels are part of a reconstruction that was carried out by Constantine IX Monomachos (mid 11th century) according to popular belief, after the Fatimi khalif al-Hakim demolished the church.
Some researchers (Pringle) claim the church was restored twenty years earlier as part of a prisoner exchange treaty between Egypt and the Byzantine Empire in 1027. This means that a chapel dedicated to Mary has existed at least since the 11th century. The gate in question belongs to this part of the complex and was built by the Crusaders, however there is no evidence they named the gate after Mary.
Up until two and a half years ago Mary's gate was blocked off by iron bars. Who added the bars, when and why?No one has a clear answer. The bars rusted over the years and were found inappropriate for the tourist attraction that is main Christian road, let alone the back of the most valued church in the world. The gap between the bars and the sealed gate became a rubbish bin, until 2011 when the Jerusalem Development Authority in cooperation with the Israel Antiquities Authority decided to restore the monument.
The first action was ripping out the rusty old bars, and following that initiating further restoration such as cleaning the original stone work. Just like anything in Jerusalem, this wasn't simple. Each action was extremely sensitive considering we're dealing with matter of archaeological and religious significance. At first the Greek Orthodox Patriarchs went back on their original consent and objected to the project. Despite this, the work was carried out,the bars are gone, and the arch is looking better than ever.
Executing the restoration without the Greek Orthodox Patriarchs' full consent left an unnecessary dent in the relations between the authorities and the patriarchs, and measures are being taken to make amends. After further discussion between the patriarchs andthe authorities, a low and aesthetically pleasing 1.10m railing was agreed upon and installed to everyone delight. A statement was released by the patriarchs in the East-Jerusalem press regarding the matter, saying that as far as they're concerned the Greek Orthodox Church was restored to its former grandeur without harming the "status quo". De facto, this is a finer railing, which is found to be esthetically pleasing and appropriate for the site and place.
Special thanks to my teachers and mentors in academia: Prof Yvonne Friedman and Prof Dan Bahat, who enlightened me regarding Crusader Jerusalem and this monument in particular.