Post-classical history

Jehosaphat, Abbey of

St. Mary of the Valley of Jehosaphat (Josaphat) was a Benedictine abbey situated east of the city of Jerusalem.

Reputedly founded by Godfrey of Bouillon, the first ruler of Jerusalem, on the site of the Virgin Mary’s tomb, the abbey was built near a Byzantine church containing the shrine of Mary’s Assumption. According to tradition, its first monks came from Godfrey’s entourage. They managed the Church of St. Mary (which retained an Orthodox altar), the Grotto of the Agony, and the Church of Gethsemane, all located near the Mount of Olives.

Church of the Tomb of the Virgin outside the walls of Jerusalem. Rebuilt from 1112 onward by Benedictine monks in the Romanesque style. In 1161 Queen Melisende, a patroness of church, was buried in one of its small chapels. (Courtesy Alfred Andrea)

Church of the Tomb of the Virgin outside the walls of Jerusalem. Rebuilt from 1112 onward by Benedictine monks in the Romanesque style. In 1161 Queen Melisende, a patroness of church, was buried in one of its small chapels. (Courtesy Alfred Andrea)

The abbey soon enjoyed extensive properties donated by Latin patriarchs, the royal family, and important magnates of Outremer. Patriarch Arnulf of Chocques helped finance a renovation of the church in 1112 and encouraged noble families to endow the house. Morphia, wife of King Baldwin II, was buried there around 1129, starting a precedent whereby queens of Jerusalem were buried apart from their husbands in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Queen Melisende commissioned a tomb in the Church of St. Mary in the 1150s. Its construction and decoration, which she may have overseen herself, clearly intended to heighten the royal family’s majesty: her burial chamber lay just off the staircase leading to Mary’s shrine, connecting the queen to the Virgin, while architectural motifs borrowed from the Holy Sepulchre associated Melisende with Jerusalem’s kings. But Jehosaphat’s fame as the center of the Marian cult in Outremer prevented the house from becoming associated only with royal women.

Jehosaphat attracted numerous donations from all over Outremer and Western Europe, and it was exempted by papal decree from various tithes and from any sort of episcopal control over its property in Outremer. This combination of wealth and independence meant that at times the abbey reduced both the income and the power of Latin bishops and patriarchs. Extensive records of litigation involving the abbey have survived, making it the best-documented monastic house of Outremer. The abbey’s fortunes waned after Jerusalem fell to Saladin in 1187. Although the monks built a new church in Acre (mod. ‘Akko, Israel), they sold it to the Hospitallers in 1289 because they had no money for repairs.

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