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Bab Sittna Mariam

by Msgr. Robert L. Stern

When Suleiman the Magnificent rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem in 1539-1542, his builders embedded lion reliefs in both sides of the last gate of the city to be completed. They probably were taken from the coat of arms of the Sultan Baybars.

It’s no surprise then that today, in Hebrew, the gate is commonly called, “the Lions’ Gate.”

Actually, Suleiman intended the gate to be called Bab el-Ghor, “the Jordan Gate,” since it faced East toward the Jordan Valley; however, that name never took.

Christians persist in calling it “St. Stephen’s Gate” after an old gate that stood in the same area before the walls were rebuilt. Since Crusader times it was associated with the nearby church of St. Stephen outside the city walls.

For Muslim – and Christian – Arabs, the gate’s name is Bab Sittna Mariam, “Our Lady Mary’s Gate,” for down the hill from it, in the Kidron Valley near the Grotto of Gethsemane, is the Tomb of the Virgin.

Our Lady’s tomb is a place of great devotion for Muslims as well as Christians, especially for women.

Originally a great Byzantine church stood over this spot, probably with its altar built over the tomb itself. It was destroyed by the Persians in 614, rebuilt, and then destroyed again. The Crusaders built another great church there, but Saladin destroyed it, leaving only the crypt.

If you walk down into the crypt to visit the tomb of our Lady, next to it you will find a mihrab, a curved niche in the wall that marks the direction of Mecca, so that devout Muslims can orient themselves correctly when they pray at this holy place.

Muslim devotion to the mother of Jesus is rooted in the teachings of the holy Qur’an.

Although there are several references to her in other places, one of the 114 surats, or chapters, of the Qur’an is dedicated to Mary. Part of it recounts the story of the Annunciation:

…Then We sent to her Our angel, and he appeared before her as a man in all respects.

She said: “I seek refuge from thee to God Most Gracious: come not near if thou dost fear God.”

He said: “Nay, I am only a messenger from thy Lord to announce to thee the gift of a pure son.”

She said: “How shall I have a son, seeing that no man has touched me, and I am not unchaste?”

He said: “So it will be: Thy Lord saith, ‘That is easy for Me: and We wish to appoint him as a Sign unto men and a Mercy from Us’: It is a matter so decreed.”

So she conceived him…

Mary is a point of convergence for the three great monotheistic religions. She is a Jewish maiden, the mother of the Christ, beloved of his followers and Muslims too. Maybe the real translation of Bab Sittna Mariam ought to be “Our Lady Mary is the Gate.”

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Msgr. Robert L. Stern, Secretary General of CNEWA



Tags: Christianity Muslim