Barren Women and Virgins: Womb-Tomb Rituals in the Cult of Mary and Rachel
To be presented in the Jerusalem Conference, The Yad Ben-Zvi Institute, June 2014.
Nurit Stadler, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
My paper discusses Tomb-Womb structures, the ritual experience that takes place within them, and its meanings. I focus on two venerated (female) shrines in the vicinity of Jerusalem: the Tomb of Mary and the Tomb of Rachel. Following my ethnographic study of these sites, I claim that the rituals performed in them are based on a physical and mimetic experience—that is, rituals that mimic the process of birth, rebirth and the cycle of life. I show that the pilgrims and visitors link them to notions of virginity and barrenness while strengthening an idea of heroic motherhood that centers on fertility, giving, and care. Finally I demonstrate how these notions are linked by the rituals that take place within these Tomb-Womb structures to ties with the land, territory, and to land claiming. I argue that the revival of the particular shrines tied to the political situation, especially the uncertainty of borders and land appropriation.