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Church of the Redeemer

Jerusalem

Church of the Redeemer

Bell tower of Church of the Redeemer with Mount of Olives in background (Seetheholyland.net)

 

The Church of the Redeemer is the newest church in the Old City of Jerusalem, but its site has a history going back to Charlemagne, the first Holy Roman Emperor, in the 9th century.

The plain-looking neo-Romanesque building — with a tall bell tower dominating the ancient Church of the Holy Sepulchre nearby — is the headquarters of the Lutheran Church in the Holy Land. It is the home to congregations that worship in Arabic, German, Danish and English.

Underneath the church, an excavated area opened in 2012 allows visitors to see ancient remains from the pre-Christian era.

The opening of the church in 1898 was a result of a 19th-century awakening of interest in the Holy Land among European Protestants. This had led Lutherans from Prussia and Anglicans from England to share a joint bishop of Jerusalem for 40 years.

Church of the Redeemer

Church of the Redeemer seen from Muristan (Israeltourism)

The Lutheran Church of the Redeemer stands on the north-east corner of a complex of streets called the Muristan (a name derived from the Persian word for hospital). It was built on the site of the medieval church of St Mary of the Latins, which had been in ruins for centuries.

In Crusader times the Muristan was the bustling home of three churches with associated pilgrim hostels and a large hospital where the medieval Order of St John was established to care for the sick and wounded.

 

Ancient wall identified in error

Churchbuilding in the Muristan began after the Caliph of Bagdhad, Harun al-Rashid (of One Thousand and One Nights fame), gave the area to the emperor Charlemagne at the beginning of the 9th century.

Church of the Redeemer

Church of the Redeemer bell tower looking down on domes of Church of the Holy Sepulchre (Seetheholyland.net)

Only ruins remained when Crown Prince Friedrich Wilhelm of Prussia (later Kaiser Friedrich III) obtained possession of the eastern half of the Muristan in 1869 to build a church for the German-speaking population.

During excavations for the foundations, an ancient wall was discovered and assumed — in error — to be the long-sought second wall of Jerusalem.

Because the location of the second wall was crucial to confirming that Calvary and the Tomb of Christ were outside the city at the time of the Crucifixion, the newly-discovered wall was regarded as a sort of relic that gave the new church a share in the status of the nearby Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

This is why the church was named the Church of the Redeemer.

Church of the Redeemer

Interior of Church of the Redeemer (Seetheholyland.net)

Emperor Wilhelm II of Germany and his wife, Empress Augusta Victoria (daughter of Queen Victoria of England), attended the dedication in 1898, the emperor riding into the city on a white horse through a specially-made opening near the Jaffa Gate.

On the same day, Wilhelm II took possession of a piece of land on Mount Zion to give to the German Catholics for a church. This is where the Church of the Dormition now stands.

 

Panoramic views from bell tower

Inside the bell tower of the Church of the Redeemer, a circular staircase of 178 steps offers panoramic views of Jerusalem from 40 metres up.

To the north is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and other buildings of the Christian Quarter. To the east is the Dome of the Rock and, behind it on the horizon, the tall tower of another Lutheran landmark, the Church of the Ascension (also known as Augusta Victoria, after the empress).

Church of the Redeemer

View from Church of the Redeemer bell tower towards Dome of the Rock (Chris Yunker)

To the south, across the Muristan, is the Armenian Quarter and, on the horizon, the Church of the Dormition. To the west, past the tall minaret of the Mosque of Omar, is the new city of Jerusalem.

Though the walls of the church were originally richly decorated, renovations in 1970 left the interior bare, apart from abstract stained-glass windows and two images.

In the apse above the altar is a mosaic medallion of the head of Christ the Redeemer.

In the right apse is a brightly coloured icon in which God the Father (portrayed with the facial characteristics of Christ) sends a rainbow to Noah at the end of the flood. The German wording “Ich stele meinen Bogen in die Wolken” (I have set my bow in the clouds) is from Genesis 9:13.

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Archaeological remains agree with Crucifixion accounts

Church of the Redeemer

Rainbow icon in Church of the Redeemer (DiggerDina)

Beneath the church, archaeological excavations descending to a depth of 13 metres were opened to the public in 2012.

These reveal ruins of the mosaic floor of the old St Mary of the Latins church (two metres below the present ground level) and the remains of a cobbled street.

There is also evidence of a quarry that provided Herod the Great with stone blocks for his building projects and was later used for gardens around the time of Christ — findings that accord with Gospel accounts of the Crucifixion.

Also revealed is part of the ancient wall that was wrongly thought to be the second wall of Jerusalem and is now believed to date from the late Roman period (2nd to 4th centuries after Christ).

Beside the wall is a deep trench dug down to bedrock by archaeologists in the 1970s.

Church of the Redeemer

Archaeologist Dieter Vieweger pointing to the wall that was wrongly assumed to be the second wall of Jerusalem (© Tom Powers)

The church complex includes an exhibition hall explaining its history and a two-storeyed medieval cloister, the best-preserved of its kind in Jerusalem.

Adjacent to it is the vaulted Chapel of the Knights of St John. It is believed to be the original refectory, or dining hall, of the hospitaller knights.

 

Administered by: Evangelical Jerusalem Foundation

Tel.: 972-2-6276111

Open: Mon-Sat 9-12am, 1-5pm (closed Sunday). Museum: Mon-Sat 9-12am, 1-3.30pm.

References

Bar-Am, Aviva: Beyond the Walls: Churches of Jerusalem (Ahva Press, 1998)
Krüger, Jürgen (translated by Rebecca Wright von Tucher): Lutheran Church of the Redeemer (Schnell, 1997)
Murphy-O’Connor, Jerome: The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide from Earliest Times to 1700 (Oxford University Press, 2005)
Prag, Kay: Jerusalem: Blue Guide (A. & C. Black, 1989)
Rossing, Daniel: Between Heaven and Earth: Churches and monasteries of the Holy Land (Penn Publishing, 2012)

 

External links

Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land
Evangelisch in Jerusalem
The Excavations Beneath Jerusalem’s Lutheran Redeemer Church (Tom Powers)
The Touristic Development Project at the Excavation at the Church of the Redeemer (Deutsches Evangelisches Institut)
Church of the Redeemer in Jerusalem

Church of the Dormition

Jerusalem

Church of the Dormition

Dome of Church of the Dormition (Seetheholyland.net)

The hill of Mount Zion, the highest point in ancient Jerusalem, is dominated by the Church of the Dormition. The location is identified in Christian tradition as the place where the Virgin Mary died — or “fell asleep”, as the name suggests.

The fortress-like building, with a conical roof and four corner towers, stands south of the Old City’s Zion Gate. Nearby soars the bell tower of the Hagia Maria Sion Abbey (formerly the Abbey of the Dormition), a Benedictine monastery.

During the Byzantine period, the Church of Hagia Sion (Holy Zion), one of the three earliest churches in Jerusalem, stood on this site. Built by the Emperor Constantine, it was regarded as the Mother of all Churches. In AD 614 it was destroyed by the Persians.

 

Claims made for two cities

Two cities, Jerusalem and Ephesus (in present-day Turkey), claim to be the place where the Virgin Mary died. The Ephesus claim rests in part on the Gospel account that Christ on his cross entrusted the care of Mary to St John (who later went to Ephesus).

Church of the Dormition

Apostles at the death of Mary, in the Church of the Dormition (Seetheholyland.net)

But the earliest traditions all locate the end of Mary’s life in Jerusalem, where the Tomb of Mary is venerated at the foot of the Mount of Olives.

Accounts of Mary’s death in Jerusalem appear in early sources such as De Orbitu S. Dominae, Transitus Mariae and Liber Requiei Mariae. These books are described as apocryphal (meaning “hidden” or “secret”). Their authenticity is uncertain and they are not accepted as part of the Christian canon of Scripture.

But, according to biblical scholar Lino Cignelli, “All of them are traceable back to a single primitive document, a Judaeo-Christian prototype, clearly written within the mother church of Jerusalem some time during the second century, and, in all probability, composed for liturgical use right at the Tomb of Our Lady.

“From the earliest times, tradition has assigned the authorship of the prototype to one Lucius Carinus, said to have been a disciple and fellow labourer with St John the Evangelist.”

By the reckoning of Transitus Mariae, Mary would have been aged no more than 50 at the time of her death.

 

Early writers favour Jerusalem

The early sources are summarised in this way by the Catholic Encyclopedia:

“The apocryphal works of the second to the fourth century are all favourable to the Jerusalem tradition. According to the Acts of St John by Prochurus, written (160-70) by Lencius, the Evangelist went to Ephesus accompanied by Prochurus alone and at a very advanced age, i.e. after Mary’s death.

“The two letters B. Inatii missa S. Joanni, written about 370, show that the Blessed Virgin passed the remainder of her days at Jerusalem. That of Dionysius the Areopagite to the Bishop Titus (363), the Joannis liber de Dormitione Mariae (third to fourth century), and the treatise De transitu B.M. Virginis (fourth century) place her tomb at Gethsemane . . . .

“There was never any tradition connecting Mary’s death and burial with the city of Ephesus.”

 

Belief in the Assumption

The belief that the Virgin Mary was bodily assumed into heaven is mentioned in the above books and also in authenticated sermons by Eastern saints such as St Andrew of Crete and St John of Damascus.

The Assumption of Mary has been a subject of Christian art for centuries (and its feast day was made a public holiday in England by King Alfred the Great in the 9th century). It was defined as a doctrine of the Catholic Church by Pope Pius XII in 1950.

St John of Damascus describes the origin of this belief in these words:

“St Juvenal, Bishop of Jerusalem, at the Council of Chalcedon [AD 451], made known to the Emperor Marcian and Pulcheria, who wished to possess the body of the Mother of God, that Mary died in the presence of all the apostles, but that her tomb, when opened, upon the request of St Thomas [who arrived late], was found empty; wherefrom the apostles concluded that the body was taken up to heaven.”

The Eastern Orthodox churches celebrate the feast of the Dormition of the Mother of God on August 15, the same day that the Catholic Church and some Protestant churches celebrate the feast of the Assumption of Mary.

 

Land was given by sultan

Church of the Dormition

Mary and Jesus mosaic in the Church of the Dormition (Seetheholyland.net)

The land on which the Church of the Dormition stands was given in 1898 by the Turkish Sultan Abdul Hamid II to Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, who presented it to the Catholic Church. Construction was completed in 1910.

Like the Crusader church that preceded it, the basilica is built on two levels with the high altar and monastic choir on the upper of these, and the crypt with its Marian shrine on the lower.

Light from several large windows pours into the upper level, and colourful wall mosaics depict events from Christian and Benedictine history.

High above the main altar is a mosaic of Mary and the infant Jesus. The Latin inscription below it is from Isaiah 7:14: “Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”

Life-size statue of Mary in death

Church of the Dormition

Lifesize image of Mary in death, in the Church of the Dormition (Seetheholyland.net)

If the upper floor of the Church of the Dormition is luminous, the circular crypt seems totally shrouded when first entered.

In the centre, under a rotunda, is a simple bier on which rests a life-size statue of Mary, fallen asleep in death. The statue is made of cherry wood and ivory.

The dome above the statue is adorned with mosaic pictures of six women of the Old Testament: Eve, Miriam, Jael, Judith, Ruth and Esther.

In the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, the church was seriously damaged by military bombardment. During the 1967 Six Day War, Israeli forces took possession of the building and the Mother and Child mosaic in the apse received a barrage of machine-gun bullets from the interior of the church.

The Dormition Church has a fine organ, which is often used for concerts.

Related site:

Tomb of Mary

 

Administered by: Benedictine Order

Tel.: 972-2-5655330

Open: Mon-Fri 8.30-11.45am, 12.40-5.30pm; Sat 8.30-11.45am, 12.40-2.45pm, 3.30-5.30pm; Sun 10.30-11.45am, 12.30-5.30pm

 

References

 

Bar-Am, Aviva: Beyond the Walls: Churches of Jerusalem (Ahva Press, 1998)
Maas, Anthony: “The Blessed Virgin Mary”, The Catholic Encyclopedia (Robert Appleton Company, 1912).
Gonen, Rivka: Biblical Holy Places: An illustrated guide (Collier Macmillan, 1987)
Petrozzi, Maria Tereza: “The Place of Mary’s Dormition”, Holy Land, spring 2005
Wareham, Norman, and Gill, Jill: Every Pilgrim’s Guide to the Holy Land (Canterbury Press, 1996)

 

External links

Hagia Maria Sion Abbey (Dormition Abbey)
Tomb of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Catholic Encyclopedia)
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