With its round sandstone tower and graceful Romanesque-style arches, the Dormition Church is one of Jerusalem's most recognisable landmarks. The church occupies the site traditionally believed to be where the Virgin Mary died (the word 'dormition' means a peaceful sleep or painless death). The current church and monastery, owned by the German Benedictine order, was consecrated in 1906. Turn left upon entering for the stairs down to the womb-like crypt, where carved pillars surround a shrine to Mary. Dress modestly.
The site's Latin name is Dormitio Sanctae Mariae (Sleep of Holy Mary). The building suffered damage during the battles for the city in 1948 and 1967. During the latter, Israeli soldiers occupied the church's tower overlooking Jordanian army positions on the Old City ramparts below. The soldiers nicknamed the tower ‘bobby’ because it resembles the helmet worn by London police officers.
The church’s interior features a golden mosaic of Mary with the baby Jesus in the upper part of the apse; below are the prophets of Israel. The chapels around the hall are each dedicated to a saint or saints: St Willibald, an English Benedictine who visited the Holy Land in 724; the Three Wise Men; St Joseph, whose chapel is covered with medallions that feature kings of Judah as Jesus’s forefathers; and St John the Baptist. The floor is decorated with the names of saints and prophets, as well as zodiac symbols.
The crypt features a stone effigy of Mary asleep on her deathbed with Jesus calling her to heaven. In the apse is the Chapel of the Holy Spirit, with the Holy Spirit shown coming down to the Apostles.
Drinks, snacks and free wi-fi are available at the cafe in the front courtyard.