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Church of the Ascension

Jerusalem

Tower of the Russian Church of the Ascension (Seetheholyland.net)

Tower of the Russian Church of the Ascension (Seetheholyland.net)

The 64-metre tower that dominates the Mount of Olives skyline belongs to the Russian Orthodox Church of the Ascension. It was built to this height in the 1870s so that pilgrims unable to walk to the Jordan River could climb its 214 steps and at least see the river.

Atop the freestanding square tower is a sharply-pointed belfry. It contains an eight-ton bell, cast in Russia and pulled and pushed — mainly by women pilgrims — on a circular wagon from the port of Jaffa. It was the first Christian bell to ring in the Ottoman city of Jerusalem.

While the church is dedicated to the Ascension of Jesus — an event most Christians believe took place about 200 metres further west at the Dome of the Ascension — it also claims a connection to St John the Baptist.

An old tradition says the Baptist’s head was buried on the Mount of Olives and discovered on the site of the church by two Syrian monks in the 4th century.

Since 1907 the church has been in the custody of a community of Russian Orthodox nuns from a variety of nations. They are renowned for their singing and their icon-writing.

 

Chapel marks finding of John’s head

The Russian complex of the church and associated buildings, including a pilgrims’ hostel, is set among gardens with a large olive grove.

Access is from Rabi’a al-Adawwiyya Street (which begins directly opposite the entrance to the Church of Pater Noster) and along a lane on the right called Alley 7. To the left of a big green gate at the end of the lane is a door with a keypad to request entry.

Hollow in floor where John the Baptist's head is believed to have been found (Matanya - Wikimedia)

Hollow in floor where John the Baptist’s head is believed to have been found (Matanya – Wikimedia)

The cross-shaped church is surmounted by a dome containing a striking representation of the Ascension. Stains on flagstones from an earlier Byzantine church are believed to be the blood of nuns slain during the Persian invasion of 614.

Attached to an outside wall, protected by a grate, is a rock on which the Orthodox believe Mary, the mother of Jesus, was standing when her son ascended to heaven.

Behind the church is a chapel built on the site where the head of John the Baptist is said to have been found.

The tradition holds that a follower of Christ called Joanna saw Herodias, the wife of Herod Antipas, throw John’s head on a rubbish heap. Joanna recovered it and buried it in a clay pot on the Mount of Olives.

In the 4th century John is said to have appeared in a dream to two Syrian monks who had come to Jerusalem as pilgrims, showing them where his head was buried.

Helena, the mother of the emperor Constantine, was in Jerusalem at the time and ordered a chapel to be built on the spot. The present chapel has a Byzantine mosaic floor with a hollow said to mark the place where the head was discovered.

Three other Ascension sites

Lutheran Church of the Ascension (Isaac Shweky / Wikimedia)

Lutheran Church of the Ascension (Isaac Shweky / Wikimedia)

The Ascension of Jesus is commemorated at three other sites on the Mount of Olives:

* The Dome of the Ascension, a small octagonal structure in a walled compound about 200 metres west of the Russian church. A church has stood here since around AD 380, but the present building is now part of a mosque.

* The Lutheran Church of the Ascension, further north towards Mount Scopus. Also known as Augusta Victoria (after the wife of the Emperor Wilhelm II of Germany who initiated plans for the church in 1989), its fortress-like compound with a tall bell tower now hosts a hospital for the Palestinian population of Jerusalem.

* The Greek Orthodox Viri Galilaei Church, between the Russian and Lutheran churches. 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 sites:

Dome of the Ascension

Sebastiya

 

In Scripture:

Jesus ascends to heaven: Acts 1:9-11

 

Administered by: Russian Ecclesiastical Mission in Jerusalem

Tel: 02-628-4373 or 628-0111

Open: Apr-Sep, Tues and Thur, 10am-1pm; Oct-Mar, Tues and Thur, 9am-12 noon. Women must wear skirts.

 

 

References

Bar-Am, Aviva: Beyond the Walls: Churches of Jerusalem (Ahva Press, 1998)
Gonen, Rivka: Biblical Holy Places: An illustrated guide (Collier Macmillan, 1987)
Hilliard, Alison, and Bailey, Betty Jane: Living Stones Pilgrimage: With the Christians of the Holy Land (Cassell, 1999)
Murphy-O’Connor, Jerome: The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide from Earliest Times to 1700 (Oxford University Press, 2005)
Rossing, Daniel: Between Heaven and Earth: Churches and Monasteries of the Holy Land (Penn Publishing, 2012)

 

Mount of Olives

Jerusalem

Mount of Olives

Church of St Mary Magdalene (left) and Church of Dominus Flevit on Mount of Olives (Seetheholyland.net)

The Mount of Olives, one of three hills on a long ridge to the east of Jerusalem, is the location of many biblical events. Rising to more than 800 metres, it offers an unrivalled vista of the Old City and its environs.

The hill, also called Mount Olivet, takes its name from the fact that it was once covered with olive trees.

In the Old Testament, King David fled over the Mount of Olives to escape when his son Absalom rebelled (2 Samuel 15:30).

After King Solomon turned away from God, he built pagan temples there for the gods of his foreign wives (1 Kings 11:7-8).

Ezekiel had a vision of “the glory of the Lord” ascending from the city and stopping on the Mount of Olives (Ezekiel 11:23).

Zechariah prophesied that in the final victory of the forces of good over the forces of evil, the Lord of hosts would “stand on the Mount of Olives” and the mount would be “split in two from east to west” (Zechariah 14:3-4).

 

Jesus knew it well

In the New Testament, Jesus often travelled over the Mount of Olives on the 40-minute walk from the Temple to Bethany. He also went there to pray or to rest.

He went down the mount on his triumphal entry to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, on the way weeping over the city’s future destruction (Luke 19:29-44).

In a major address to his disciples on the mount, he foretold his Second Coming (Matthew 24:27-31).

He prayed there with his disciples the night before he was arrested (Matthew 26:30-56). And he ascended into heaven from there (Acts 1:1-12).

 

A place for pilgrims to sleep

Mount of Olives

Jewish cemetery on Mount of Olives (Seetheholyland.net)

Until the destruction of the Temple, the Mount of Olives was a place where many Jews would sleep out, under the olive trees, during times of pilgrimage.

During the Siege of Jerusalem which led to the destruction of the city in AD 70, Roman soldiers from the 10th Legion camped on the mount.

In Jewish tradition, the Messiah will descend the Mount of Olives on Judgement Day and enter Jerusalem through the Golden Gate (the blocked-up double gate in the centre of the eastern wall of the Temple Mount, also known as the Gate of Mercy, or the Beautiful Gate).

For this reason, Jews have always sought to be buried on the slopes of the mount. The area serves as one of Jerusalem’s main cemeteries, with an estimated 150,000 graves.

Among them is a complex of catacombs called the Tombs of the Prophets. It is said to contain the graves of the prophets Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi, who lived in the 6th and 5th centuries BC, but the style of tombs belongs to a later time.

From Byzantine times the mount became a place of church-building. By the 6th century it had 24 churches, surrounded by monasteries containing large numbers of monks and nuns.

 

Several major pilgrimage sites

Mount of Olives

Church of All Nations on Mount of Olives (© Tom Callinan / Seetheholyland.net)

The Mount of Olives is the location of several major sites for pilgrims. They include:

• Church of All Nations (Basilica of the Agony): A sombre church at Gethsemane, built over the rock on which Jesus is believed to have prayed in agony the night before he was crucified.

• Church of St Mary Magdalene: A Russian Orthodox church whose seven gilded onion domes, each topped by a tall cross, make it one of Jerusalem’s most picturesque sights.

• Church of Dominus Flevit: A church in the shape of a teardrop, commemorating the Gospel incident in which Jesus wept over the future fate of Jerusalem.

• Church of Pater Noster: Recalling Christ’s teaching of the Lord’s Prayer, this church features translations of the prayer in 140 languages, inscribed on colourful ceramic plaques.

• Dome of the Ascension: A small shrine, now a mosque marking the place where Jesus is believed to have ascended to heaven.

The garden and grotto of Gethsemane: The ancient olive grove identified as the place where Jesus went to pray the night before he was crucified, and the cave where his disciples are believed to have slept.

• Tomb of Mary: A dimly-lit, below-ground church where a Christian tradition says the Mother of Jesus was buried.

Related sites:

Church of All Nations

Church of St Mary Magdalene

Church of Dominus Flevit

Church of Pater Noster

Church of the Ascension

Dome of the Ascension

Gethsemane

Tomb of Mary

 

In Scripture:

King David flees over the Mount of Olives: 2 Samuel 15:30

King Solomon builds pagan temples: 1 Kings 11:7-8

“Glory of the Lord” stops on Mount of Olives: Ezekiel 11:23

Splitting of mount prophesied: Zechariah 14:3-4

Jesus enters Jerusalem: Luke 19:29-44

Jesus foretells his Second Coming: Matthew 24:27-31

Jesus prays before his arrest: Matthew 26:30-56

Jesus ascends into heaven: Acts 1:1-12

 

 

References

Bar-Am, Aviva: Beyond the Walls: Churches of Jerusalem (Ahva Press, 1998)
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: 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

Mount of Olives (BiblePlaces)

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)
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