Sacred Sites in Contested Regions

Lectures & Publications

Land, fertility rites and the veneration of female saints: Exploring body rituals at the Tomb of Mary in Jerusalem

Nurit Stadler
This article explores the connections between rituals, embodiment, and territorial claims
by taking stock of Christian Orthodox rites at the Tomb of Mary in Jerusalem. As part of
a comprehensive ethnography of this shrine, I have examined a wide array of body-based
female practices that revolve around Mary’s tomb. By rejuvenating embodied practices
that are associated with fertility, parturition and maternity, devotees enlist the grotto’s
womb-like interior as a platform for kissing, touching, crawling, bending, and other physical
acts of devotion that make for a powerful body-based experience. As demonstrated
herein, the mimetic journey of a fetus/pilgrim through this womb-tomb expanse elicits
a sense of rebirth, which is analogous to reclaiming the land and establishing a ‘‘motherly’’
alternative to the masculine and bellicose disposition in Israel/Palestine.