- Appropriating Jerusalem through Sacred Places: Disputed Land and Female Rituals at the Tombs of Mary and Rachel
- Anthropological Quarterly
- George Washington University Institute for Ethnographic Research
- Volume 88, Number 3, Summer 2015
- pp. 725-758
- View Citation
Due to deep-seated political tensions and intermittent violence between various streams of the city’s three major religions, Jerusalem’s sacred landscape is in the midst of significant change. One of the most salient expressions of this phenomenon is the renaissance of female saint shrines, most notably the Tomb of Mary and the proximate Tomb of Rachel the Matriarch. At these sites, female symbols, imagery rituals, and materiality have become powerful tools for asserting political claims that pertain to land and belonging. I will take stock of this phenomenon through the lens of different ethno-religious groups in Israel/Palestine that are availing themselves of female symbols (such as fertility, suffering, and maternal care) to advance various objectives. I find that these symbols have charged valences within minority communities. For members of the country’s hegemonic denominations, Rachel is the Jewish people’s “eternal mother” as well as a national symbol of the “return of the exiles” to their homeland. At the same time, local Catholic and Orthodox Christians view Mary to be “the mother of minorities” who suffered on behalf of and continues to provide succor for the weak. As a minority, Christians in Israel/Palestine employ this image of the Virgin as part of their effort to struggle with their weakening grip over the territories. Viewing the Virgin as a protector of minority groups is a departure from the vast majority of the Christian world, where Mary constitutes a national symbol that reinforces social belonging. In sum, I show how, amid the ongoing religious struggle, both female icons and their respective sacred venues are mobilized by different groups for the sake of challenging the political order and reshaping the landscape.