8 September : Birthday of Our Lady in Jerusalem
The Proto-Gospel of James (2nd century) indicates the birth of the Virgin Mary in the vicinity of the Temple; and pilgrims from the 5th century onwards visited the church of the paralytic and “Saint Mary where she was born” at the probatic pool.
This church, destroyed before the arrival of the Crusaders, was built on the present site of Saint Anne’s, with a large monastery, provided with royal revenues, where AUDE, wife of King BEAUDOUIN I, and Judith, daughter of BEAUDOUIN II and sister of Queen MELISANDRE, ended their lives.
In 1192, as an Arabic inscription on the tympanum of the main door indicates, the church was transformed by Saladin into a Shiafi’i college; hence the name Salahiye.
During the Muslim occupation, the Franciscan friars of the Custody of the Holy Land used every means to gain access to the crypt from time to time to pray with their pilgrims. They could only enter by descending through a window that can still be seen today from the platform through which one enters the Crypt of the Birth of Mary.
As early as the 15th century, the Franciscans obtained a firman that allowed them to celebrate Mass (which was done with difficulty and fear) on 8 September, the feast of the Virgin’s birth, and on 8 December, the feast of the Immaculate Conception.
In 1856, after the Crimean War, the building was given to France by Sultan ABDUL MAJID. The church, carefully restored, was entrusted in 1878 to the care of the White Fathers founded by Cardinal Charles LAVIGERIE.
During the 1967 war, the basilica and its dome were badly damaged by Israeli bombing. In the following years, the church was restored under the direction of the architects M. TROUVELOT and P. COUASNON OP.
On 14 July 1971, France’s National Day, it was solemnly reopened for worship.