Good Friday Processions in Jerusalem: The Station of the Holy Women


Good Friday processions draw many Christians to the holiest shrine in the world, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.  Good Friday generally happens twice per year, with one Good Friday reserved for Catholics who follow the Gregorian calendar and another for the Eastern Catholics and Orthodox who follow the Julian calendar.  The shrine of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is so massive that it includes both Mt. Calvary where Christ died and his nearby tomb, both located under the same roof in the same church that was originally built by the Empress Helena.

One of many holy sites inside the church that draws flocks of pilgrims and processions (especially on Good Friday), is the so-called Armenian station of the holy women, also known more properly as the "Place of the Three Marys."  This is located in the southeastern part of the of the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre.  In general Armenian and Orthodox pilgrims can be seen gathering here with some frequency.  In fact, the Armenian Orthodox have a procession to this spot every day of the year, with the students of the Armenian Patriarchate Seminary of Jerusalem participating and acting as chant schola. 

This holy site is located on the main level of the basilica, just outside the entrance to the Armenian sacristy (where candles and holy items can be sometimes be purchased when it is open and staffed).  Also from here the Armenian Apostolic monks enter their monastery that stretches over part of the ground floor as well as part of the first upper floor (the stairs to the left lead up to the upper part of the monastery, where can also be seen one of the pillars from the three times Christ was scourged).

The site is immensely important although it is not exactly noticed by everyone who passes by, making it a sometimes overlooked and forgotten spot on the pilgrim itinerary inside the basilica.  The Armenians have had control of the site for centuries as Armenia was the first nation to legalize Christianity in 300 AD.  Christianity's institution as Armenia's official religion under St. Gregory the Illuminator led to the first Christian churches being built atop the remnants of pagan temples across the Armenian nation.  Thus, Armenian church architecture has borrowed certain aspects from pre-Christian classical architecture, reflected in the shrine, uniting the best of the classical world and baptizing it for the worship of the one true God.  

The shrine is marked by a circular slab in the floor that is covered with a large stone canopy made of white marble, suspended on four tall pillars.  In the middle under the canopy is a golden depiction of angels holding up a bowl of blessed oil that pilgrims sometimes sign themselves with.    

This important site marks the spot where Our Lady stood with her female companions during the crucifixion of Our Blessed Lord.  This is because women were not allowed on Mt. Calvary, barred from standing too close to witness the crucifixion.  From here Mary's gaze was felt, directed up the hill to where her sorrowful son was crucified and died.

The scene is depicted in a very large modern mosaic on the wall behind the shrine monument, recalling the emotion of the scene with Mary standing at the foot of the cross.  This site is just a few footsteps away from the base of Mt. Calvary and even closer to the aedicule, the burial place of Christ - where pilgrims visit His empty tomb.     

The "Three Marys" is a term that refers to the various women who are mentioned in the Gospels during the crucifixion narratives, more than one who was named Mary.  The three Marys that the Gospel of John mentions are Mary the Mother of Jesus, Mary Magdalene and Mary of Clopas.  The Gospel of John reads: "Now there stood by the cross of Jesus, his mother, and his mother's sister, Mary of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalen" (John 19:25).  

As a side note, while Catholics recognize and often pray here at this site of external devotion, the site is not included in the daily procession of the Franciscans at the Holy Sepulchre (Ordo Processionis Quae Hierosolymis in Basilica Sancti Sepulcri Domini Nostri Iesu Christi), which stops at various stations inside the basilica to allow for moments of meditation and recollection, paying attention to particular aspects of the Passion of our Lord.    

In the Latin tradition, in the preparations for the crucifixion, Our Lady withdrew to what is referred to as the Chapel of the Franks, dedicated to Our Lady of Sorrows and St. John, connected by a window to the Latin nave on Mt. Calvary (the Latin nave is the chapel where it is believed the tenth and eleventh stations occurred on the Way of the Cross, where Christ was stripped of His garments and nailed to the cross).  

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