Dome of the Cradle of Jesus

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Mahd Issa, Source: Matar, 2017

The Cradle of Jesus (مهد عيسى)

The Cradle of Jesus (مهد عيسى) is located in the middle of a staircase located in the south-east corner of the Al-Musalla Al-Marwani leading to the roof of the chapel. Some say it was built during the Ottoman era; others say it was the Umayyad era and others say it was built during the Fatimid period. Probably it was built during the Umayyad era and renovated Fatimid and then the Ottoman period (Matar, 2017, p. 116,120).In 1671,the Iraqi scholar ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Khiyari (d. 1672) described the cradle of “our lord The Cradle of Jesus and the Oratory of Mary in Jerusalem’s al-Haram al-Sharif Jesus, to which you descend by a few steps in the corner of the mosque”; it is “made of marble and to its left is a beautiful oratory, it is said, where our Lady Mary worshipped.” (Matar, 2017, p. 116,120)

The Structure of the Dome

This site is a small rectangular room (4.40 x 7.40 meters) which is used as a place of Salah (Muslim worship). An additional alcove has been opened and is used as a window. The room's vaults originate from a relatively later period and are made of small stones. Above the "cradle" is a dome supported by four marble pillars, most probably installed during the Fatimid era. It was rebuilt by the Muslims most probably during the era of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent. The traveler Nasir Khusraw mentioned this site in 413 AH / 1047 AD. The Cordovan poet Ibn ‘Abid Rabbih (860–940) confirmed the association between “the oratory of Mary” and the cradle in Islamicjerusalem (Matar, 2017, p.112).

The marble alcove originating from the early Byzantine period when it was possibly a setting for a statue of some sort. The recess in the floor underneath the dome is the purported Cradle of Jesus, this alcove is arched in shape and refined at its borders in the shape of a conch shell, (1x1.60 meters). Stairs leading to the south-eastern chamber (grill in the upper left) commonly known as the Maqam e Maryam Oratory of the Virgin Mary inside the al-Marwani Mosque. This is a small room containing a domed cavity in the floor, according to the tradition, this is the site of the cradle of Jesus, where Mary placed him at the age of 40 days. This episode is mentioned in the Gospel according to Luke (Luke 2:23–24). The small chamber has three windows made of stained glass, overlooking Kidron Valley. Access to this area by a winding staircase containing 32 stairs.

Another tradition mentions that below this area is a crypt where the wooden cradle of the highly worshiped Jesus is reserved. This door is in the western wall, now blocked, allows entry from Solomon's stables. According to the decorations on this door, it is related to the Byzantine period. This name was given to this monument to commemorate the birth of Prophet Jesus, peace be upon him. The name "Jesus' Cradle" indicates that this location was considered holy by the Christians and it is possible that here stood a church. It is told that here he customarily hosted Mariam and Jesus in great honor, and gave them to eat. This is what he did the night after Jesus was 40 days old and then presented him to the sanctuary. (Sagiv, 1996)

Religious Perspectives

In 1047, Nasiri Khusrow (1004–c. 1078) on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, gave a detailed description of the cradle of Jesus and the oratory of Mary. He described that the cradle is made of stone, big enough that people can pray at it . . . and is immovably fixed in the floor. It is the cradle in which Jesus spent his childhood and from which he spoke to people . . . To the east side is the oratory of Mary, peace be upon her. And there is another oratory for Zachariah, peace be upon him. Above these two mihrabs are Qur’anic verses that were revealed about Zachariah and Mary. It is also said that Jesus was born in this mosque . . . This mosque is known as The Cradle of Jesus, peace be upon him. (Matar,2017. p. 113)

When Ibn ‘Arabi (1165–1240) visited Jerusalem, he celebrated Christ as the khalifa and al-insan al-kamil of Sufi stations;53 it was at Jesus’s hand, he wrote,that he had repented (taba ‘ala yadihi),54 for Jesus had received “wisdom as a suckling babe in the cradle.” In his treatise on al-Isra’ ila al-maqam al-asra, Ibn ‘Arabi turned the stages of the Prophet Muhammad’s ascent to the seven heavens into his own Sufi journey toward mystical union. In the second heaven, he met Jesus and “my life united with his being, and the self-delighted in his visage, his light permeated all places and darkness was banished from the body.” Then, the Sufi seeker (al-salik) reported how Jesus asked him:

"Where did the soul originate?” I replied, “In the Sufi station [hadra] of holy splendor." "He asked: “Why did he speak in the cradle?” I replied: “To be a second witness against the wrong doers." "He asked: “Was there an earlier witness to that?” I said: “Mary’s shaking of the palm tree.”

For Ibn ‘Arabi, the Prophet Muhammad’s experience had prefigured his own experience of Jesus in the cradle and Mary under the palm tree. (Matar,2017. p. 117)

Another Andalusian Sufi traveled in the last decade of the fourteenth century and described both his spiritual and his real experience in the hadra of the Holy Land. For Ibn al-Sabbah al-Andalusi, as for many other Muslims, the “holy land” referenced in the Qur’an was interpreted to apply to all of bilad al-Sham (Greater Syria, including Palestine).58 Ibn al-Sabbah traveled to Bayt al-Maqdis, a place of “blessings and famous miracles” in a land that was mawatin al-anbiya’ wa turbatihim: the native home and resting ground of the prophets and their land.59 In the center of the city and the land was the rock. The Cradle of Jesus and the Oratory of Mary in Jerusalem’s al-Haram al-Sharif that epitomized the whole history of the Abrahamic revelation. To confirm that history, he drew a map of the Noble Sanctuary, as earlier he had done of Mecca and al-Khalil (Hebron). In that map, he highlighted the shrines of Qur’anic veneration: the oratory of Abraham, the dome of Moses, the oratory of Solomon, the dome of the “Chain of Wise David, Prophet of the Israelites,” the oratory of Yahya/John the Baptist, and the dome of Mary, her palm tree, and the cradle of Jesus. (Matar,2017. p. 117,118)

Furthermore, Mujir al-Din al-Hanbali (1456–1522), chief judge of Jerusalem wrote: "Under the ground, there is a mosque known as the cradle of Jesus, peace be upon him. And it is said, it is the oratory of Mary, peace be upon her. People there should repeat the invocation that Jesus, peace be upon him, repeated when God raised him from the Mount of Olives [Tur Zayta]. Later, Hanbali stated that Jesus, “peace be upon him, was born and spoke from the cradle in Jerusalem, received the table in Jerusalem, was taken up by God to heaven in Jerusalem, and will descend from heaven to Jerusalem.” (Matar,2017. p. 119)

For the Damascene Sufi ‘Abd al-Ghani al-Nabulusi (1641–1731), Jerusalem was alhadra qudsiyya – “the holy [Sufi] station” – as he stated in the title of his travelogue of 1691. Nabulusi knew most of the accounts that had been written about al-Haram al-Sharif and therefore, as he visited the site on 11 April 1691, he went to see the cradle of Jesus, peace be upon him, which is in a mosque under ground level . . . which can be reached by going down a few steps. There is the cradle, made of marble, and to its left is a beautiful oratory which, it is said, is the place where our lady Mary, peace be upon her, worshipped. It is a very pleasant place, and in the corner there is the place (mahal) of our master Gabriel, peace be upon him, and there is another place which, it is said, is where the disciples of Jesus, peace be upon him, worshipped. It is said that prayers there are accepted by God. So we prayed two prostrations. (Matar,2017. p. 120)


Matar, Nabil, 2017. “The Cradle of Jesus and the Oratory of Mary in Jerusalem’s al-Haram al-Sharif.” Jerusalem Quarterly 70: 111-125.

Sagiv, Tuvia, 1996. Solomon's Stables and the Southern Gates.