Chapel of the Ascension (Jerusalem)
|Chapel of the Ascension|
The Ascenscion Ædicule
|Location||Mount of Olives, Jerusalem|
|Ecclesiastical or organizational status||Under Islamic Jurisdiction|
|Completed||First church c390; current chapel: c1150|
The Chapel of the Ascension (Hebrew: קפלת העלייה, Greek: Εκκλησάκι της Αναλήψεως) is a shrine located on the Mount of Olives, in the At-Tur district of Jerusalem. Part of a larger complex consisting first of a Christian church and monastery, then an Islamic mosque, it is located on a site the faithful traditionally believe to be the earthly spot where Jesus ascended into Heaven forty days after his resurrection. It houses a slab of stone believed to contain one of his footprints.
Shortly after the death and resurrection of Jesus, early Christians began gathering in secret to commemorate his Ascension at a small cave on the Mount of Olives. The issuance of the Edict of Milan by the Roman Emperor Constantine I in 313 made it possible for Christians to worship overtly without fear of government persecution. By the time of the pilgrim Egeria's travels to Jerusalem in 384, the spot of veneration had been moved to the present location, uphill from the cave. Saint Helena, mother of Constantine I, traveled to the holy land between 326 and 328. During her pilgrimage, she identified two spots on the Mount of Olives as being associated with Jesus' life. The place of his Ascension, and a grotto associated with his teaching of the Lord's Prayer. On her return to Rome she ordered the construction of two sanctuary complexes at these locations. During the 5th century Saint Pelagia of Antioch lived here as a hermit and penitent in a grotto.
The first complex constructed on the site of the present chapel was known as Imbomon (Greek for “on the hill”). It was a rotunda, open to the sky, surrounded by circular porticos and arches. In 390 AD, Poimenia, a wealthy and pious Roman aristocratic woman of the imperial family financed the addition of a Byzantine style church at the site of Helena's original construction. The second sanctuary at this location, also Byzantine in design, was called "Eleona Basilica" (elaion in Greek means "olive garden", from elaia "olive tree," and has an oft-mentioned similarity to eleos meaning "mercy"). This shrine was built on the sacred grotto where Jesus is said to have taught his disciples to pray the Our Father. The original 4th century church, known today as the Church of the Pater Noster was partially reconstructed in the early 20th century but remains unfinished. Most of these churches and their surrounding structures were destroyed by the armies of the Persian Shah Khosrau II during the final phase of the Byzantine-Sassanid Wars in 614.
It was subsequently rebuilt in the late 7th century. The Frankish bishop and pilgrim Arculf, in relating his pilgrimage to Jerusalem in about the year 680, described this church as "a round building open to the sky, with three porticoes entered from the south. Eight lamps shone brightly at night through windows facing Jerusalem. Inside was a central edicule containing the footprints of Christ, plainly and clearly impressed in the dust, inside a railing." The reconstructed church was eventually destroyed, and rebuilt a second time by the Crusaders in the 12th-century. This final church was eventually destroyed by the armies of Salah ad-Din, leaving only a partially intact outer 12x12 meter octagonal wall surrounding an inner 3x3 meter shrine, also octagonal, (called a martyrium or "Edicule") remaining. This structure still stands today.
After the fall of Jerusalem in 1187 the ruined church and monastery were abandoned by the Christians, who resettled in Acre. During this time Salah ad-Din established the Mount of Olives as a waqf entrusted to two sheikh's, al-Salih Wali al-Din and Abu Hasan al-Hakari. This donation was registered in a document dated 20 October 1188. The chapel was converted to a mosque, and a mihrab installed in it. Because the vast majority of pilgrims to the site were Christian, as a gesture of compromise and goodwill Salah ad-Din ordered the construction, two years later, of a second mosque nearby for Muslim worship while Christians continued to visit the main chapel. Also around this time the complex was fortified with towers, walls, and guarded by watchman. The shrine and surrounding structures saw periods of non-use and disrepair over the next 300 years. By the 15th century the destroyed eastern section of the octagonal outer wall was separated from the rest by a dividing wall and was occupied by peasant houses and animal stables. Though still under the authority of the Islamic Waqf of Jerusalem, this mosque is currently opened to visitors of all faiths, for a nominal fee.
The main structure of the chapel is from the Crusader era; the octagonal drum and stone dome are Muslim additions. The exterior walls are decorated with arches and marble columns. The entrance is from the west, the interior of the chapel consists of a mihrab indicating the direction of Mecca in the south wall. On the floor, inside a stone frame, is a slab of stone called the "Ascension Rock".
The main octagonal ædicule surrounds the Ascension rock, said to contain the right footprint of Christ., the section bearing the left footprint having been taken to the Al-Aqsa Mosque in the Middle Ages. The faithful believe that the impression was made as Jesus ascended into Heaven and is venerated as the last point on earth touched by the incarnate Christ.
The grounds also contain a burial crypt near the chapel that is revered by three separate monotheistic religions, although opinion differs on the occupant. Jews believe it contains the 7th-century BC prophetess Huldah, Christians believe it to be the tomb of the 5th-century saint Pelagia of Antioch; while Muslims maintain that the 8th-century Sufi mystic and Wali, Rabi'a al-Adawiya is buried there.
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