Shared Marian Shrines in the Mediterranean: A Selection of Three Short Films

Manoël Pénicaud, IDEMEC/CNRS Aix-Marseille University


Women undoubtedly constitute the largest part of Muslim visitors to holy places that are attended by the faithful of different religions. Contrary to common beliefs and representations, religious boundaries are often crossed by the “religious other” because of the “power” of holy figures. The Virgin Mary—mother of God for the Christians and mother of the prophet ‘Isa for the Muslims—is one of the most venerated shared figures in the Mediterranean. She embodies the qualities of a universal mother who transcends religious boundaries. In the past, many accounts by Christian pilgrims recorded the presence of Muslims who had come to revere the Virgin in certain holy places, such as Nazareth, Bethlehem, or in the Garden of Matariah in Egypt (film 1). But this Muslim devotion is still active until today in many Marian sites, like in the House of Mary in Ephesus, Turkey (film 2), in Notre-Dame de la Garde in Marseille, France, Notre-Dame d’Afrique in Algiers and Notre-Dame de Santa Cruz in Oran, Algeria (film 3).

The following short films were created in the framework of the Shared Sacred Sites exhibition held at the Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilizations (Mucem) in Marseille (2015) and curated by Dionigi Albera (CNRS) and Manoël Pénicaud (CNRS):

The Garden of Mary in Matariah

by Gildas Sergé (L’Œil Graphique), 2015, 5min45, Production: Mucem & SATIS, France (English subtitles)

The House of Mary in Ephesus

by Manoël Pénicaud, 2015, 3min45, Production: Mucem & Idemec-CNRS, France (English subtitles)

Marie des deux rives

(Mary between two shores), by Malek Sahraoui, 2015, 11min55, Mucem, Hito Films (French version)


1. The Garden of Mary in Matariah, by Gildas Sergé (L’Œil Graphique), 2015, 5min45, Production: Mucem & SATIS, France (English subtitles)

During the Flight into Egypt, the Holy Family is said to have stopped in the desert by a miraculous spring and sycamore. In Heliopolis (Cairo), the site of Matariah, identified as the site where the episode took place, has become an important place of pilgrimage. Accounts by travellers through the centuries testify to the luxuriant vegetation of the Garden of Mary attracting both Christians and Muslims. Now transformed into an open-air museum, the site is surrounded by housing blocks, in sharp contrast with past depictions of the garden as a luscious paradise.


2. The House of Mary in Ephesus, by Manoël Pénicaud, 2015, 3min45, Production: Mucem & Idemec/CNRS, France (English subtitles)

The Catholic House of Mary (Meryem Ana Evi in Turkish), on a hill above Ephesus in Turkey, is regarded as a possible site for the Assumption of Mary. It is here that she is said to have spent her last days after she followed the apostle John. Discovered in the late 19th century by French missionaries, the site grew enormously popular in the 1950s when large numbers of Muslims spontaneously started praying in Mary’s house. Today the shrine is visited by hundreds of thousands of people every year. Among them are many Muslims.


3. Marie des deux rives (Mary between two shores), by Malek Sahraoui, 2015, 11min55, Mucem, Hito Films (French version)

The Catholic church of Notre-Dame de la Garde at the heart of Marseille is attended every day by Muslim women who worship the Virgin Mary. Many of them have an Algerian origin. On the other side of the Mediterranean Sea, the same phenomenon is taking place in Notre-Dame d’Afrique, at the top of Algiers, and also in Notre-Dame de Santa Cruz in Oran.


Shared Devotion: A Selection of Three Short Videos/Video-Installations

Meliha Teparić, International University of Sarajevo


1. Gens Una Sumus (We are all one people), by Meliha Teparić, 2016/17, approx. 05min58, video installation/still image with sound, Bosnia-Herzegovina

The video installation Gens Una Sumus consists of two elements: the statue of the Virgin Mary which stands in front of the Muslim prayer niche, the mihrab, in the wall of a mosque indicating the direction of the Ka‘bah in Mecca. The concept of the work reflects the idea about universal religious themes and the unity of all people. The connection between these two elements, the mihrab and the statue of the Virgin Mary is related to the calligraphic expression on the mihrab which is inscribed on many mihrabs. The meaning of this expression refers to the Muslim Holy Book, the Quran, and the story about the Virgin Mary reflecting the moment when she was in a shrine. The concept attempts to speak about spiritual unity and religious commonality through contemporary art media.

Thesound installation comprises the eulogy of the Virgin Mary from the Bible, recorded in Arabic, and the verse from the Quran, recorded in Latin. These two texts are connected to each other in meaning and the second text could be seen as a continuation of the first alluding to its unity.

Latin narration:

So, her Lord accepted her with good acceptance and caused her to grow in a good manner and put her in the care of Zechariah. Every time Zechariah entered upon her in the prayer chamber, he found with her provision. He said, “O Mary, from where is this [coming] to you?” She said, “It is from God. Indeed, God provides for whom He wills without account.” [Quran, 3:37]

Sufcepit ergo eam Dominus ejus fufceptione pulchra, & germinare fecit eam germine pulchro: & fufcepit eam in curam Zacharias. Quotiefcumque ingrediebatur ad eam Zacharias Adytum, inveniebat apud eam cibum.  Dixt: O Maria, undenam tibi hoc? Refpondit: Hoc eft à Deo: nam Deus præbet alimenta cui vult fine computatione. [Alcorani, 3:37]

Arabic narration:

And Marysaid, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.” (Bible by Luca, 46-55)


2. Homage to Rabia al-Adawiyya: To Burn Down Paradise and To Douse Out Hell, by Meliha Teparić, 2016, 1min30, video, Bosnia-Herzegovina

The video illustrates the famous story the female Sufi saint of the 8th century, Rabia al-Adawiyya, and her pure unconditional love of God.


3. Alchemy of Soul, by Meliha Teparić, 2017, 2min05, video installation, Bosnia-Herzegovina

The central idea of this video installation is to bring attention to the commonality among monotheistic religions. 

The video installation consists of 3 elements: the video sequence with sound, a photo, and a moving object.

The video consists of a sequence of recorded performances of Sufi ritual (dhikr) and the invocation of the presence of divinity. The video projection is screened on a wall, over small printed images which show that the dhikr took place in a Christian church (St. Paulo in Torino, Italy, 2015). A moving object is in front of the video projection: it is an incense burner of the type typically used in Orthodox ceremonies, swinging from the ceiling while emitting smoke. The smell of burning incense is not only common in Christian, especially Orthodox and Catholic, rituals but it is also used in Sufi contexts. However, unlike the Christian use of incense during the ritual, most Sufis will use it to purify the ritual site from ‘negative energy’ before the dhikr.

The installation intends to have immersive impact on the viewer who focusses on the censer and its motion framed by the sound from the video. The smell, as fourth dimension, and the abstract sound of the invocations which, actually, are perceived as the sound of breathing, reflect the sharing of common spiritual threads that erase formal differences among religions.

The video installation The Alchemy of Soul as well as other works from the series Gens Una Sumus reflect Meliha Teparić’s living environment in Bosnia-Herzegovina, a country which is home to the three monotheistic religions. With her work she would like to underline the communalities rather than the differences which often result from a lack of understanding of a respective ethnic group’s religious heritage.

Gens Una Summus

(We are all one people), by Meliha Teparić, 2016/17, approx. 05min58 (installation/still image with sound)

Homage to Rabia al-Adawiyya

To Burn Down Paradise and To Douse Out Hell, by Meliha Teparić, 2016, 1min30

Alchemy of Soul

by Meliha Teparić, 2017, 2min05, video installation, Bosnia-Herzegovina