The Convent of St. Mary Magdelene, Jerusalem

The St. Mary Magdalene Convent in the Garden of Gethsemane, Mount of Olives, Jerusalem.
The St. Mary Magdalene Convent in the Garden of Gethsemane, Mount of Olives, Jerusalem.

The Church of Saint Mary Magdalene is situated on the slope of the Mount of Olives in the Garden of Gethsemane and is one of the most easily recognizable landmarks of Jerusalem. This striking example of Russian architecture was built in the Muscovite style with golden onion domes or cupolas.

It was built as a memorial to Empress Maria Alexandrovna by her son the Russian Czar Alexander III and his brothers. Grand-Duke Sergei Alexandrovich, brother of Alexander III, and his wife Grand-Duchess Elizabeth (Princess Elizabeth of Hesse-Darmstadt), grand-daughter of Queen Victoria and sister of the last Empress of Russia, presided at the consecration of the church of Saint Mary Magdalene in 1888 as representatives of the Emperor.

The Grand-Duchess took a deep personal interest in the church and commissioned the well-known Russian artist Sergei Ivanov (1864-1910) to paint the large imposing murals depicting the life of Saint Mary Magdalene which were brought to Jerusalem for the consecration and hang in the church today.

The large canvas above the iconostasis shows Mary Magdalene before the Roman Emperor Tiberius. In her hand she holds a red egg which she presents to the Emperor, symbolizing the resurrection and eternal life. She tells Tiberius about the unjust judgment and death on the cross of Jesus Christ. It is known that after re-examining this unlawful trial Pilate, at that time governor of Jerusalem, was deposed and sent into exile. The elegant white marble and bronze iconostasis holds icons by the distinguished Russian artist, Vereshchaguin.

On the right side of the iconostasis in a specially carved wooden icon-case is the miracle-working icon of the Mother of God ‘HODIGITRIA’. This icon comes from Lebanon. Records of its miracles date back to the 16th century when it miraculously survived a fire that consumed the church. Later it healed many people during a cholera epidemic.

In this century, the metropolitan of Lebanon had repeated dreams telling him to give the icon of the Hodigitria to Abbess Mary in Palestine. After some inquiries he found Abbess Mary at the Russian Orthodox Convent of Saint Mary Magdalene in Gethsemane, and this is how the icon came to be in the Church. To this day believers receive miraculous help from the Mother of God after praying before Her holy icon.   

Holy Royal Martyr Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna. At right is shown her reliquary in the Gethsemane Convent of St. Mary Magdalene.
Holy Royal Martyr Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna. At right is shown her reliquary in the Gethsemane Convent of St. Mary Magdalene.
Grand-Duchess Elizabeth, widowed by an assassin’s attack on her husband in 1905, became a nun and founded a convent devoted to nursing and charitable work in Moscow. After the revolution, in 1918, the Grand-Duchess together with her companion Sister Barbara and several members of the Russian Imperial Family were thrown into a mine shaft by the Bolsheviks and left to die. Her remains and those of Sister Barbara eventually were brought to Jerusalem. In 1920, they were laid to rest, as the Grand-Duchess wished, in a crypt below the Saint Mary Magdalene Church. They were canonized as Martyr Saints in 1981 and at this time their relics were moved into the main section of the church where they rest today in marble sarcophagi.   

The interior of the Convent Church of St. Mary Magdalene
The interior of the Convent Church of St. Mary Magdalene
Princess Andrew of Greece (Princess Alice of Battenberg), mother of the Duke of Edinburgh visited the church and stayed in the monastery in the 1930s. Her wish was to be buried near her Aunt ‘Ella’, the Grand-Duchess Elizabeth whose devotion to the church and to nursing and charitable service she strove to emulate. Princess Andrew died at Buckingham Palace in 1969. Her wish to be buried at the Convent of Saint Mary Magdalene in Gethsemane was finally realized in 1988 when her remains were transferred to her final resting place in a crypt below the church.

The church stands in the Garden of Gethsemane, the place where Jesus spent His last night on earth. Also found on the convent grounds are the remnants of a pre-Roman road, the biblical entry to Jerusalem. Not far from this road is a large stone on to which the Mother of God dropped her cincture to Apostle Thomas on the third day following her Dormition.

There are many caves in the Garden of Gethsemane which the Church tells us were used by Christ and his Disciples for prayer. One large cave in the grounds of the convent is used as a chapel, where the sisters meet to read their evening prayer rule.

Today, the church is the place of daily worship for the women’s convent of St. Mary Magdalene, under the jurisdiction of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad. The sisterhood was established in 1936 by Mother Mary (Robinson), an English convert to Orthodoxy. The convent is a thriving community of 30 nuns from all over the world: Russians, Americans, Australians, Arabs, Serbs and Romanians.

(Left) the foundress of the sisterhood, Mother Mary (Robinson).
(Left) the foundress of the sisterhood, Mother Mary (Robinson).
The sisters are multi-talented: some paint icons, others embroider vestments and items for liturgical use. Hand-painted Russian eggs from Gethsemane are famous around the world as are the sisters’ prayer ropes, bookmarks, and other hand crafts. They also make incense for use in the church and for private prayer. All these items are available at the monastery kiosk.

(Right) Abbess Elizabeth of the Gesthemane Convent of St. Mary Magdalene
(Right) Abbess Elizabeth of the Gesthemane Convent of St. Mary Magdalene

These are perilous times for historical landmarks throughout the world. Each year our precious monuments of ‘living history’ fall victim to deterioration and decline, often due to lack of funds to maintain and repair them.

The Holy Land is no exception. The church is in a bad state of deterioration and ‘The Gethsemane Restoration Project’ was launched in 1994. Our goal is to repair and restore this famous landmark to its former magnificence. We ask for your help to achieve our aim.

Russian Ecclesiastical Mission in Jerusalem


Cyprian Baruffi5/19/2024 2:38 am
Christ is risen! Father bless! Beloved of Christ, I am wanting to have an Icon written at St Elisabeth convent in Belarus. It would be gifted to a small Serbian Church in Wisconsin USA. I am wondering if it is possible to obtain an Holy relic of St Elizabeth Feodorovna, the Holy Nun Barbara, and the Beloved St. Mary Magdalene to put into the Holy Icon to be venerated by the faithful and, hopefully,to cause growth in our poor parish. Please forgive me for not knowing how to proceed in this. I am the least of Christs servants. -Sinful Reader Cyprian Truly He is Risen!
Editor9/6/2023 11:55 am
Mary Ann Beck: Without seeing the icon itself it's hard to say, but St. Elizabeth also found the Martha and Mary Convent in Moscow. The convent church could be the one depicted. But if it looks like the church in the first photograph in this article, then it's the Gethsemane Convent.
Mary Ann Reck 9/5/2023 8:33 pm
Hello, I am trying to do some research on the icon of St Elizabeth the New Martyr. Am I correct that the church she is holding is St Mary Magdalene's in Gethsemane? Thank you in advance. Mary Ann Reck
Robin Levy8/24/2022 9:52 pm
It seems that donations can be made here just click on the donation page. Blessings to all!
Peter R.8/9/2022 12:41 am
I would like to make a donation to the Church. Can you please indicate how to do this? Thank you.
Deacon Rob Page8/8/2022 11:55 pm
I saw a picture of the icon that you have where the Theotokos is giving her belt to St. Thomas. I was wondering if you would have copies of that icon for sale. In Christ, Deacon Rob Page
Robin8/8/2022 6:11 am
Where can I send donations for the restoration fund? I would also like to make a prayer request for a departed family member. St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco wrote that prayers from the Holy Land are especially effective. Thank you, and the Lord bless you and keep you.
Elizabeth Mary - spiritual name given “ Maria”12/31/2019 10:42 am
Good Morning I came to the monastery about Easter week last year and sat and spoke of Mary Magdalen on the grounds for almost an hour with I believe it was your superior You his. Sister would remember me I stayed at the Pontifical Institute and I am a white American woman blonde early 50’s Well I was so moved by your monastery and by the sisters that I would like to come and stay for a visit and discern Gods call on my life I have been living a life of a consecrated person self imposed by onChrist for 25 years and now feel Called to formalize it and live in fraternity God Bless I may be reached US EST. 857-654-3972
Anastasia Guðrún Finnbogadóttir 8/12/2019 8:37 pm


Ja shelaju snatj esli monastyr prinimaet gosti, na nedelju, na primer.

Ja is Islandii no krjestilas dvattsjatj semj let tomu hasad v Rossii. B Novo-Golutvinom Monastyrje.

Spasibo sa otvetj

Stacey1/7/2019 1:07 pm
Hello, Im stacey. I was wondering if there was any way I could get someone to offer a prayer for me for my partner. If so I am requesting healing prayers for my partner Warren Walters who is recovering from a surgery on his head and working through remission and the healing process. I pray he makes a full recovery and lives an amazing long happy healthy life. May he be healed and his wishes of health and longevity be fulfilled. That his mind, body and soul be fulled restored, blessed and healthy always. I believe miracles can happen and I hope this finds it's way to someone who can help. Thank you
blackest black man11/3/2017 3:34 am
who is the auther of this bc i cant find it
Yvonne Bodosky2/22/2017 3:09 am
Our church, St. Michael's Orthodox Church, in Portage, Pennsylvania, USA, has learned from our parish priest, Very Rev. Grigori Tsjouman, that your convent is in of bedding linen. We would like to send some linen to you but we need to know the measurements of your mattresses and pillows.

Can you provide this information for us?

Thank you in advance for your assistance.

May God Bless You!

Fr. Vasily Lickwar2/15/2017 9:46 pm
Dear Matushka Igumenia,
Greetings with the Feast of the Lord's Meeting in the Temple!
Do you have any biographical data and information to share about the departed Mother Maria Shevchuk, who came to the convent from Syracuse, NY. I remember reading about her in the Russian Orthodox Journal when I was a boy some fifty years ago. I whoul like to write a short article about with a photo (if you ave one to email to me) for my parish newsletter. I believe she was the first Russian American person to enter an Orthodox convent. Vladyka Lavr gave my parish a relic from the Grand Duchess Elizabeth, that belinged to Mother Maria, to my parish which is in Cumberland, Rhode Island.
May God bless You!
marina bernadette beverley anne staunton1/2/2017 9:20 pm
I am considering asking to join your monastery; I really want to establish ' the house of the Holy Order of the Third Covenant, but I don't have any money and perhaps it isn't the right time yet; and perhaps I am not ready. I speak and read Greek as a second language, and I sing and am generally creative. I have stayed in a monastery several times overnight and once for one week. I believe I may be suitable, and want to try, to see if it is Our Father in Heaven's will for me.
Jasmina6/29/2015 3:06 pm
Dear editor,
I would like to contact monastery in order to ask for possibilities of accomodation of married couple eho are in Orthodox Serbian Church. If possible please leave me any available contact in order to communicate persons in charged for such questions (preferably e mail). If not possible.there I would highly appreciate your help for other monastery accomodation.
Thanking you in advance,
peter henry7/10/2014 4:25 pm
Could you please tell me how to make a donation.
Gwen Stube9/24/2013 11:58 pm
Much detail in your commentary. I appreciate that.
Hope to see it some day
Here you can leave your comment on the present article, not exceeding 4000 characters. All comments will be read by the editors of OrthoChristian.Com.
Enter through FaceBook
Your name:
Your e-mail:
Enter the digits, seen on picture:

Characters remaining: 4000

to our mailing list

* indicates required