Israel : Christianity’s Holiest Site & More

It was my third day in Israel and a day to explore more of the Old City of Jerusalem and Mount Zion.  On previous days I had my initial tour of the Old City during my arrival and birthday, followed by a trip to the Dead Sea and Masada the next day.


Mount Zion Hotel, where I was staying, is only a few minutes walk to Mount Zion. Probably, the hotel had been named as such because of its proximity and full view of Mount Zion.

I had to walk from my hotel down along Hebron Road until its intersection with Hativat Yerushalayim, turning left on it and keeping right.  Then I had to climb up the hill through a winding road. Mount Zion is located on the south-west side of the old city, outside the present walls.  According to Christian tradition, Mount Zion was the site of the palace of high priest Caiaphas, and the location of the house where Jesus held the last supper. It was also the place where His mother Mary is buried. Therefore, the area has been prime site for Christian churches, institute and cemeteries.  According to Jewish, Christian and Muslim traditions, this is also the site of the tomb of King David.

My first stop in Mount Zion was the Coenaculum (Upper Room) where Jesus sat with His disciples to celebrate the Passover Seder (Last Supper).  The building identified as the Coenaculum or the Cenacle is a small, two-storey structure within a larger complex of buildings on the summit of Mount Zion.

The upper storey was built by the Franciscans in the 14th century to commemorate the Last Supper.

It is also identified as the “upper room” in which the Holy Spirit descended upon the Disciples at Pentecost (Acts 2:2-3). The sculpted mihrab, the Muslim prayer niche, was added in 1523, when the Franciscans were evicted from the building and the room converted into a mosque.

The ground-floor room beneath the Coenaculum contains a cenotaph that since the 12th century has been known as the “tomb of King David” – even though the recorded burial place of the king was in the “City of David” on the Ophel Ridge (1 Kings 2:10).

I entered the ground-floor room…..

…and got a glimpse of the tomb site.

Just outside the tomb, a star of David caught my eye…..

…and King David’s statue as well.

Just nearby outside the Zion Gate is the Dormition Abbey, a massive structure that resembles a mighty fortress. This Benedictine Basilica was built on the site where Virgin Mary have fallen asleep for the last time.

 It is topped by a high, domed belltower, a conical dome and corner towers.

Out of regard for the nearby Muslim sacred place of Nabi Da’ud (David), which now occupies the building in the Upper Room I previously visited and where traditionally the Last Supper took place, the bell tower is set far enough away that its shadow does not touch Nebi Da’ud, and is therefore not directly accessible from the church.

The present church is a circular building with several niches containing altars.

The basilica’s highlights are the mosaics.

Shown here are some of the altars…

…and more altars.

Two spiral staircases lead to the organ-loft and the gallery, from where two of the church’s four towers are accessible and to the lower crypt, the site ascribed to the dormition of the Virgin Mary.

The lower-level crypt is the traditional site of Mary’s home and death. It is the memorial for the spot where Mary (mother of Jesus) fell into sleep before her burial and assumption into heaven. A circular pillared hall with ambulatories, it centers on the Chapel of the Dormition…..

…with a carved-stone figure of Mary in repose (dormitio). Above, a mosaic in the dome depicts Christ receiving her soul.

From the Dormition Abbey, I took a fews steps and walked inside Zion Gate to enter once again the walled Old City of Jerusalem.

As I was trying my way to the Christian Quarter I accidentally passed by the Jewish Quarter once more and caught a glimpse of the Hurva Synagogue. Built, destroyed and rebuilt a number of times, this historic synagogue was in its final completion of its approved restoration to its 19th century style when I visited it. [It was formally completed in March 2010.]

I walked around some more around the Jewish Quarter and I came across the Four Sephardi Synagogues. They form a complex which comprises four adjoining synagogues which were built at different periods to accommodate the religious needs of the Sephardic community, each congregation practising a different rite.

First stop was the Yochanan ben Zakai Synagogue, also known as Kahal Kadosh Gadol, that stands on the spot of the beit midrash of the tanna Rabban Yochanan ben Zakai who established the Tsanhedrin in Yavneh after the destruction of the Second Temple.  The current building was constructed at the beginning of the 17th century.

Well, an Arab guy offered his services as a tour guide for a small fee and he also acted as my photographer.

The Emtsai Synagogue or Middle Synagogue, also known as the Kahal Tzion Synagogue, forms the central chamber of the complex. It was originally a courtyard which probably used as the women’s section of the Rabban Yohanan Ben Zakai synagogue. During Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles) it could be converted into a sukkah for the worshippers. With the growth of the community, it was decided during the middle of the 18th century to roof the yard. It was turned into what is today known as the Middle Synagogue, due to its location in the “middle” of the other three synagogues.

Another synagogue was established in the 16th century and named after Elijah the Prophet. This synagogue is the oldest of the four. The Eliyahu Ha’navi Synagogue mainly served as a beth midrash for Torah study. It was only used for prayer on festivals.

It was a short but informative tour of the synagogues.


After my quick Jewish Quarter revisit, I finally went directly to the Christian Quarter.  Seen here is the silver-gray dome of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, considered as Christianity’s holiest site.

This is the main entrance to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

As I faced the opposite side from the entrance and atrium of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the imposing tower of the Mosque of Omar rose above the delirious crowd packing the alley.

I have extracted a map from www.sacred-destinations.com of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher for a better perspective of the tour I made around the compound.  The church is home to Eastern Orthodoxy, Oriental Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism. Anglicans and Protestant Christians have no permanent presence in the church.

At the church entrance, a mosaic of Jesus being taken from the cross, being prepared for burial and being entombed adorns the wall facing the entrance.

Just beneath the painting, is the Stone of the Anointing or Stone of Unction, believed to be the spot where Jesus’ body was prepared for burial by Joseph of Arimathea.

The lamps that hang over the stone were contributed by Armenians, Copts, Greeks and Latins.

Christians belonging to certain sects venerate the stone.

Here is a closer look at the wall mosaic.

Further inside to the west of the Stone of Unction is the focal point of the Holy Sepulcher Church.

Underneath the large dome is the Tomb of Christ itself, enshrined in a large, boxy shrine. The shrine, referred to as the edicule, is supported by scaffolding on the outside making it unattractive.

The dome is decorated with a 12-pointed star whose rays symbolize the outreach of the 12 apostles. The diameter of the dome is about 20.5 meters; the height is 34 meters.

A large crowd was patiently queueing up to see the inside of the edicule….

..and the rest were standing in awe.

Just across the Tomb of Christ is the Catholicon, or Greek Orthodox cathedral….

……with the thrones of the Patriarchs of Jerusalem and Antioch.

Above it is the “Pantokrator” mosaic.  It depicts Christ as the “Almighty”, “All-Powerful”, “Omnipotent”.

Going back to the entrance, a stairway on the right leads to Calvary (or Golgotha), the place where Jesus was crucified.

The first chapel is the Catholic (Franciscan) Chapel of the Nailing of the Cross, which is Station 11 on the Via Dolorosa. Shown here is the 12th-century mosaic of Jesus being nailed to the cross on the vault and a Medici altar from Florence.

Adjacent to the Catholic chapel is the Greek Orthodox Calvary, which contains the actual Rock of Calvary (Station 12) around which the church was built. This is the Altar of Crucifixion.

Here, according to tradition, Jesus was crucified.

Down from Calvary (Golgotha), the Stone of Anointing could be seen with the crowds venerating it.

The wall mosaic in the entrance can also be seen.

Back again to ground level, another part of the Roman Catholic section is shown here.

At the east end of the north aisle is the the chapel of the Prison of Christ (Greek Orthodox Chapel), which according to 12th-century tradition housed Jesus and the two thieves before the Crucifixion.

Inside the Prison of Christ.

I then took a stairway that descends to the large Chapel of St. Helena, which is owned by the Armenians and known to them as the Chapel of St. Gregory. On the stairway walls are many small crosses carved by medieval pilgrims. The chapel has three aisles and two apses: the north apse is dedicated to the penitent thief; the south apse to St. Helena, mother of Constantine. A seat in the southeast corner of the chapel is said to have been occupied by Helena as she searched for the True Cross, a story first mentioned around 351.

From that corner, I descended 13 more steps into the Chapel of the Finding of the Cross.

The left side is owned by the Catholics, whose altar features an eerie, life-sized statue of St. Helena holding a cross.

The Greeks have the right side of the chapel.   Shown here are Korean tourists and that ended my tour of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the holiest place in Christianity.

As I was walking to exit through one of the gates, I passed by the entrance to the Mosque of Omar….

…passing and stopping by shops where I bought some souvenirs, one of them was a medium-sized menorah.

I exited via the Jaffa Gate and from the open space I enjoyed the views of the walled city…..

….that includes the view of the tower of David.

I proceeded to the nearby, modern Mamilla Mall.

Home to some of the nicest and poshest restaurants in Mamilla, the mall features an outdoor promenade and a two-level indoor sections of fashion chain stores and boutiques.

I stopped at a reasonably-priced Italian bistro to have my late lunch of alfredo fettucine. After a little shopping, I went back to the hotel.

The view from my room was a stunning, golden scenery of the Kidron Valley brought about by the afternoon sun.  It was another memorable day….walking where Jesus walked in the Golden City.

My final day in Jerusalem consisted of the quick tour to the Mount of Olives before I traveled north to Tiberias.

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