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The Sites

Israel and Palestine – In Jerusalem

Israel and Palestine – Outside Jerusalem

Jordan

Egypt

Extras

Kathisma

Israel

 

Weeds surround the low rock on which Mary is believed to have rested (Seetheholyland.net)

Weeds surround the low rock on which Mary is believed to have rested (Seetheholyland.net)

Midway between Jerusalem and Bethlehem lie the largely ignored remains of one of the Holy Land’s biggest churches — and probably the first of them dedicated to the Virgin Mary.

The Kathisma church was built around a rock where early Christian tradition says that Mary rested while on her way with Joseph from Nazareth to Bethlehem.

The church was built by a wealthy widow named Ikelia in AD 456 on what was already a major pilgrimage site. It was enlarged in the 6th century, but destroyed around the 11th century.

Its existence was known from Byzantine literature, but the location was a mystery until 1992 when a bulldozer dug into a mosaic floor buried in an olive grove during widening of the Jerusalem-Hebron highway.

Highway traffic passing ruins of Kathisma church (Seetheholyland.net)

Highway traffic passing ruins of Kathisma church (Seetheholyland.net)

The site is about 6 kilometres from Jerusalem, on the left side of the highway — just before the route 398 turnoff to the Har Homa settlement and Herodium, and 600 metres before the Mar Elias monastery.

Passing traffic glimpses scattered stonework and weeds between the multi-lane highway and the olive trees, but on the site the octagonal outline of the church is evident. At its centre protrudes the limestone rock on which the pregnant Mary is believed to have rested.

 

This was more than just a church

Kathisma (the name is Greek for seat) was more than just a church. Archaeologists describe it as a martyrium — a structure intended to bear witness to the Christian faith by commemorating an event in the life of Christ, a martyr or other holy person.

The importance of the structure is shown by its width of 43 metres — only 10 metres less than the octagonal Dome of the Rock, built more than 230 years later and also enclosing a holy rock.

Mosaic floor uncovered at Kathisma (Gabrielw.tour / Wikimedia)

Mosaic floor uncovered at Kathisma (Gabrielw.tour / Wikimedia)

Three concentric walls surrounded the Kathisma rock. The first two formed a walkway leading to a large apse at the eastern end. The third wall encompassed four chapels and adjacent rooms.

Most of the floors were paved with colourful mosaics, in geometric and floral designs. These are well preserved, but covered with sand to protect them.

Excavators found a clay waterpipe near the rock. An early tradition says a miraculous spring appeared there to quench Mary’s thirst, and a 6th-century account tells of pilgrims drinking sweet water at the site.

 

Building may have been shared with Muslims

Broken column from Kathisma church (Seetheholyland.net)

Broken column from Kathisma church (Seetheholyland.net)

The Kathisma church escaped destruction during the Persian and Islamic conquests of the 7th century. But evidence of a prayer niche facing Mecca indicates that part or all of the building was used as a mosque in the 8th century.

Bearing in mind the respect shown by the Koran for Mary, experts speculate that this may have been one of a few churches that were shared by Christians and Muslims during the Arab period.

Such harmony did not exist in the middle of the 20th century when the site was in no man’s land during hostilities between Jordan and Israel. The 1949 armistice agreement line (“green line”) runs across the property.

In the 1990s the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, which owns the site, had plans to develop a major pilgrimage centre but these have not eventuated.

 

 

References

Prag, Kay: Jerusalem: Blue Guide (A. & C. Black, 1989)
Shanks, Hershel: “Where Mary Rested — Rediscovering the Kathisma”, Biblical Archaeological Review, November/December, 2006
Vamosh, Miriam Feinberg: “The Kathisma: The most important ancient church you never heard of”, Haaretz, February 24, 2014

 

External links

Kathisma — Place of Rest on the Way to Bethlehem (Travelujah)
Kathisma (BibleWalks)
The Church of the Seat of Mary (Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs)

Dome of the Ascension

Jerusalem

Dome of the Ascension

Dome of the Ascension (© Israel Ministry of Tourism)

The shrine marking the place where Jesus is believed to have ascended to heaven offers Christians a disappointing experience.

All that remains of the several churches built to celebrate the Ascension is a small octagonal structure on a property that is now part of a mosque.

Plain and unadorned, the Dome of the Ascension stands in a walled compound east of the main road that runs on the top of the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. The location is just north of the Church of Pater Noster — which is built over a cave that the first Christians used as a more secluded place to commemorate the Ascension.

The last church on the site was captured by the Muslim sultan Saladin when he defeated the Crusaders in 1187. Since Muslims also believe in the Ascension of Jesus, it was converted into a mosque.

An unusual feature of the tiny building is that it contains what has been traditionally regarded as the last impression of Jesus’ right foot on earth before he ascended into heaven.

 

First church was open to the sky

Dome of the Ascension

Footprint stone in Dome of Ascension (Seetheholyland.net)

The first church on the hill was funded by Poemenia, a wealthy Roman woman who was a member of the imperial family, around AD 380.

Known as the Imbomon (Greek for “on the hill”), it was a rotunda, open to the sky, surrounded by circular porticos and arches. In the centre of the stone floor was a rock on which it was believed Jesus’ final footprints could be seen in the dust.

By 670 the original structure had been destroyed and rebuilt but the English pilgrim Arculf reported to his countrymen that the footprints were still to be seen in the dust of its floor.

In the 12th century the Crusaders rebuilt an octagonal chapel, set within a fortified monastery. From this strategic position on the crest of the Mount of Olives, the Crusaders controlled the road between Jericho and Jerusalem.

The footprints were still venerated, but now they were reported to be carved into the face of the rock.

Part of this rock remains today in the Dome of the Ascension, although the Muslims have moved it adjacent to a mihrab they inserted to indicate the direction of Mecca. They took the section bearing the left footprint to the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount, where it was placed behind the pulpit there.

 

Christian celebrations are allowed

Dome of the Ascension

Celebrating the Ascension at the Dome of the Ascension (© Custodia Terrae Sanctae)

The Muslims also walled in the open spaces between the columns and put a dome over the opening in the roof.

The ornately carved capitals on top of the columns are well preserved. The designs depict foliage and fabulous animals.

The various Christian communities are permitted to hold celebrations here on their Ascension feast days. Hooks in the courtyard wall are used to erect their awnings, ribbons and flags on these occasions.

To the right of the entrance to the Dome of the Ascension is a small mosque built in 1620.

An underground tomb near the entrance is revered by all three monotheistic religions, although they differ about its occupant. Jews believe it contains the Old Testament prophetess Huldah; Christians regard it as the grave of the 5th-century St Pelagia; Muslims maintain it is the tomb of the Sufi holy woman Rabi’a al-’Adawiyya (for whom the mosque is named).

 

Three more recent Ascension churches

Three more recent churches on the Mount of Olives commemorate the Ascension.

At the summit is the Russian Orthodox Church of the Ascension, dating from the late 19th century. Its tall tower, one of Jerusalem’s most prominent landmarks, was built to enable pilgrims to see the Jordan River.

On the north side is the German Lutheran Church of the Ascension (also known as Augusta Victoria, after the wife of the Emperor Wilhelm II of Germany who initiated plans for the church in 1898), dating from the early 20th century. Its fortress-like compound with a tall bell tower now hosts a hospital for the Palestinian population of Jerusalem.

Between the Russian and Lutheran churches is the Greek Orthodox Viri Galilaei Church. Its name means “men of Galilee”, a reference to the question posed to the apostles by two men in white after the Ascension: “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up to heaven…?”

Related site: Church of the Ascension

 

In Scripture:

The Ascension of Jesus: Luke 24:50-51; Acts 1:4-11

Administered by: Islamic Waqf Foundation

Open: Daily (if door is not open, ring the bell)

 

References

Bagatti, Bellarmino: “ ‘Footprints’ of the Saviour on the Mount of Olives”, Holy Land, winter 2005.
Bar-Am, Aviva: Beyond the Walls: Churches of Jerusalem (Ahva Press, 1998)
Inman, Nick, and McDonald, Ferdie (eds): Jerusalem & the Holy Land (Eyewitness Travel Guide, Dorling Kindersley, 2007)
Gonen, Rivka: Biblical Holy Places: An illustrated guide (Collier Macmillan, 1987)
Murphy-O’Connor, Jerome: The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide from Earliest Times to 1700 (Oxford University Press, 2005)
Walker, Peter: In the Steps of Jesus (Zondervan, 2006)
Wareham, Norman, and Gill, Jill: Every Pilgrim’s Guide to the Holy Land (Canterbury Press, 1996)

 

External links

Chapel of the Ascension, Jerusalem (Sacred Destinations)
Chapel of Ascension (BibleWalks)
Chapel of the Ascension panorama (Jesus in Jerusalem)

Cenacle

Jerusalem

Cenacle

Cenacle or Upper Room (© Israel Ministry of Tourism)

The Cenacle room on Mt Zion in Jerusalem is where two major events in the early Christian Church are commemorated: The Last Supper and the coming of the Holy Spirit on the apostles.

• The Last Supper was the meal Jesus shared with his apostles the night before he died. During this meal he instituted the Eucharist.

• The coming of the Holy Spirit, at Pentecost, is recognised as marking the birth of the Christian Church.

The Cenacle is on the upper floor of a two-storey building near the Church of the Dormition, south of the Zion Gate in the walls of Jerusalem’s Old City.

Above it is the minaret of a Muslim mosque; immediately beneath it is the Jewish shrine venerated as the Tomb of King David (though he is not buried there).

 

Different from da Vinci

Cenacle

Pilgrims in the Cenacle (Berthold Werner)

The Cenacle is not universally accepted as the site of the “upper room” mentioned in Mark 14:15 and Luke 22:12.

But archaeological research shows it is constructed on top of a church-synagogue built by the first-century Jewish-Christian community of Jerusalem. Fragments of plaster have been found with Greek graffiti, one of which has been interpreted as containing the name of Jesus.  This would have been the first Christian church.

The only competing site is the Syrian Orthodox Church of St Mark (also on Mt Zion), which also claims to possess the “upper room”.

Wherever the site, the original place of the Last Supper would have been a simple dining hall — quite different from those depicted in paintings by Leonardo da Vinci and other artists.

Symbol of a pelican’s blood

Cenacle

Pelicans feed on their mother’s blood on a column in the Cenacle (© Custodia Terrae Sanctae)

The present Gothic-arched Cenacle is a restoration of a Crusader chapel built in the 12th century as part of the Church of Our Lady of Mount Zion.

Among the architectural details of the Crusader period is a slender marble column supporting a stone canopy in the south-west corner. Carved into the capital at the top of the column are two young pelicans feeding on the blood their mother has drawn from her breast — symbolising Christ giving his blood for the salvation of humankind.

In the 16th century, after the Turks captured Jerusalem, the room was transformed into a mosque in memory of the prophet David. Its mihrab (a niche indicating the direction of Mecca) and stained-glass windows with Arabic inscriptions remain.

 

Where Peter was left knocking

According to one early Christian tradition, the “upper room” was in the home of Mary the mother of John Mark. He was the author of the Gospel of Mark (and presumably also the young man who fled naked, leaving behind his linen garment, to escape the authorities when Jesus was arrested in the garden at Gethsemane, an event he recorded in Mark 14:51).

This house was a meeting place for the followers of Jesus. It was inside the city walls of Jerusalem, in a quarter that was home to its most affluent residents.

It was also the house to which Peter went after an angel of the Lord released him from prison. Acts 12:12-16 says a maid named Rhoda was so overjoyed at recognising his voice that she left him knocking at the outer gate while she went to tell the gathered disciples.

 

Obtained at huge cost

The site of the Cenacle was also the first holy place the Franciscans obtained, bought in 1335 through the efforts of King Robert and Queen Sancia of Naples, “after difficult negotiations and huge expenses”.

The structures around the “upper room” are in fact remnants of the Franciscan medieval friary.

Over the centuries the buildings the Franciscans constructed were frequently destroyed and friars were ill-treated and even killed.

 

In Scripture:

The Last Supper: Matthew 26:17-30; Mark 14:12-25; Luke 22:7-23; John 13:1—17:26

Institution of the Eucharist: 1 Corinthians 11:23-26

The coming of the Holy Spirit: Acts 2:1-4

Administered by: Israel Ministry of the Interior

Tel.: 972-2-6713597 (Franciscan chapel)

Open: 8am-5pm daily

 

 

References

Freeman-Grenville, G. S. P.: The Holy Land: A Pilgrim’s Guide to Israel, Jordan and the Sinai (Continuum Publishing, 1996)
Gonen, Rivka: Biblical Holy Places: An illustrated guide (Collier Macmillan, 1987)
Mackowski, Richard M.: Jerusalem: City of Jesus (William B. Eerdmans, 1980)
Murphy-O’Connor, Jerome: Keys to Jerusalem (Oxford University Press, 2012)
Notley, R. Steven: Jerusalem: City of the Great King (Carta Jerusalem, 2015)
Pixner, Bargil: With Jesus in Jerusalem – his First and Last Days in Judea (Corazin Publishing, 1996)
Poni, Shachar: “Renovating Royal Tomb” (The Jewish Voice, February 5, 2010)
Walker, Peter: In the Steps of Jesus (Zondervan, 2006)
Wareham, Norman, and Gill, Jill: Every Pilgrim’s Guide to the Holy Land (Canterbury Press, 1996)

 

External links

Christian Mount Sion (Franciscan Cyberspot)
Church of the Apostles found on Mt Zion (Biblical Archaeological Review)
The Cenacle (Biblical Archaeology)
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