Tourist Tip #200 John Mark's House

The sanctuary 'only' 800 years old at the traditional home of Mary, mother of John Mark, is built on a much older structure.

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Not far from the Jaffa Gate, between the Old City’s Armenian and Jewish quarters, is a gem of a little church where an ancient Christian sect marks the traditional site where the first Christians in the Holy City may have met to worship.

Little-visited by tourists, St. Mark's Church makes a wonderful addition to an Easter-season Jerusalem itinerary.

To visit this house of prayer, located on Ararat Street, is to make the acquaintance of a venerable branch of Christianity – the Syriac Orthodox Church. The main sanctuary is “only” about 800 years old – but it was built over a much older structure, where tradition says the Last Supper took place.

It’s interesting to explore this ancient tradition and compare the site to the better known locale for the Last Supper, marked by Catholics and Protestants at nearby Mount Zion

Another New Testament story that tradition says took place at this site is that of Peter, who, after he was miraculously freed from prison, appeared at the house of the Apostle John Mark on this spot.

According to the story, the household servant, Rhoda, was so shocked to see Peter - whom few expected to emerge alive from his ordeal – that she ran back to the household to announce the news, forgetting to actually open the door (Acts 12:12).

When you visit the sanctuary, look for the ancient inscription carved into a stone on the wall. Written in the ancient Syriac language and said to date to the sixth century CE, the inscription states: “This is the house of Mary, mother of John Mark.”

You’ll also see a baptistery in the church where according to tradition Jesus baptized Mary, and a piece of ancient sacred art – a portrait of Mary and Jesus which is believed to have been painted by Luke the Evangelist.

If you happen to visit the church during services, you’ll hear that the liturgy is sung in a language very close to Aramaic, the everyday language of Jesus’ day and very rarely heard today.

Jewish visitors may find it more familiar than Christians do, as Aramaic is still part of Jewish liturgy and ancient texts.

During Orthodox Easter week (April 28–May 5) St. Mark’s Church is particularly bustling place, full to the brim with Syriac Orthodox Christians from all over the world.

St. Mark’s Monastery is also famous as the place to which the Bedouin who discovered the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1947 first brought the ancient writings to be examined.

St. Mark's Church, Ararat Street, Tel. 02-6283304

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Not where you want to be if you want an off-the-beaten-track holy site.Credit: Emil Salman

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