Sunday, June 14, 2015


Gilded Onion Domes, St. Mary of Magdalene Church, Jerusalem, Israel

As we go along in life we slowly recognize those eternal truths that are part of the human experience. One of these truths reminds us that those who do not study history are doomed to repeat it. Unfortunately, its corollary is that history is written by the winners. So it is inevitably slanted to the point of view of those in power and the conquerors. The first century culture in Jesus’ time and place was definitely male dominated and for the most part remains so today.

The books of the Bible were mostly written by men through their filtered biases and cultural experience, albeit they were most certainly inspired in their writings. They didn’t give Mary Magdalene a whole lot of credit as one of Jesus’s most trusted disciples so she didn’t get much press at the time. But there is an often overlooked beautiful Russian Orthodox church dedicated to her which is located directly across the Kidron Valley from the Temple Mount near the Garden of Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives. Jesus frequently met his disciples here, wept for the Jewish nation here and it was here that he began his triumphal entrance into Jerusalem on that fateful Palm Sunday shortly before his death on a cross.

The seven gilded onion domes caught my photographer’s eye as we entered the Garden of Gethsemane. I took just one photo not knowing what I was shooting but knowing that it was a unique feature on this sacred landscape surrounded by thousands of ancient Jewish tombstones. Later I learned that it was the church of St. Mary Magdalene and it was built by Czar Alexander III in 1888.

The centerpiece inside the church contains a giant white marble and bronze screen painted with the four evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Above the screen is a painting of Mary Magdalene standing before Emperor Tiberius in Rome. She is holding a red egg. Church tradition tells of Mary bringing an egg to Tiberius and declaring, “Christ has risen!”, since she was the first to see her risen Lord. Tiberius is said to have responded, “How could anyone rise from the dead? It is as impossible as that egg turning red!” As he spoke the egg turned a crimson red symbolizing Jesus’ sacrificial blood. The custom of dying eggs on Easter is believed to have come from this story.

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