Dormition Abbey

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Dormition Abbey viewed from the Jerusalem city wall.

Abbey of the Dormition is an abbey and the name of a Benedictine community in Jerusalem on Mt. Zion just outside the walls of the Old City near the Zion Gate.

Between 1998 and 2006 the community was known as the Abbey of Hagia Maria Sion,[1] in reference to the Basilica of Hagia Sion that stood on this spot during the Byzantine period, but it resumed the original name during the 2006 celebrations of the monastery's centenary. Hagia Maria Sion is now the name of the foundation supporting the abbey's buildings, community and academic work.

History of the site[edit]

Further information: Church of Zion, Jerusalem

The Byzantine basilica Hagia Sion was built under John II, Bishop of Jerusalem in the early 5th century. Relics attributed to Saint Stephen were transferred to the church on 26 December 415. The church is shown in the 6th-century Madaba Map. It was destroyed in the 614 siege of Jerusalem by Sasanian king Khosrau II. Its foundations were recovered in 1899 when architect and buildings manager of the Diocese of Cologne, Heinrich Renard (de) (1868–1928), investigated the site. Connected with this is the thesis of Bargil Pixner of a pre-Crusader Church of Zion.[2]

A monastic order known as the Abbey of Our Lady of Mount Zion was established at the site in the 12th century, with a church built on the ruins of the earlier Byzantine church. The 12th-century church was again destroyed in the 13th century, and the monks moved to Sicily. The order was eventually absorbed into the Jesuits in 1617 (the Congregation of Notre-Dame de Sion is an unrelated monastic order founded in 1843).[3]

The order was chosen as the namesake of the "Priory of Sion hoax" created by French esotericist Pierre Plantard during the 1960s.[4]

Modern building[edit]

Exterior of the church.
Interior of the church.

During his visit to Jerusalem in 1898 for the dedication of the Protestant Church of the Redeemer, Kaiser Wilhelm II bought this piece of land on Mount Zion for 120,000 German Goldmark from Sultan Abdul Hamid II and presented it to the "German Union of the Holy Land" ("Deutscher Verein vom Heiligen Lande").

According to local tradition, it was on this spot, near the site of the Last Supper, that the Blessed Virgin Mary died, or at least ended her worldly existence. In Orthodoxy and Catholicism, as in the language of scripture, death is often called a "sleeping" or "falling asleep", and this gave the original monastery its name, the church itself is called Basilica of the Assumption (or Dormition). In the Catholic dogma of the Assumption of Mary, Christ's mother was taken body and soul to heaven.

Renard delivered the designs and plans for the Abbey, the direction of construction was entrusted to the architect Theodor Sandel (de), a member of the Temple Society and a resident of Jerusalem. The foundation stone was laid on 7 October 1900. Construction was completed in only ten years; the basilica was dedicated on 10 April 1910 by the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem.

The present church is a circular building with several niches containing altars, and a choir. Two spiral staircases lead to the crypt, the site ascribed to the Dormition of the Virgin Mary, and also to the organ-loft and the gallery, from where two of the church's four towers are accessible.

Out of regard for the nearby Jewish and Muslim sacred place of David's Tomb, which occupies part of the ground floor of the Cenacle where traditionally the Last Supper took place, the belltower is set far enough away that its shadow does not touch the tomb, and is therefore not directly accessible from the church.

Benedictine community[edit]

The first monks had already been sent to Jerusalem in 1906 from Beuron Archabbey in Germany. They were interned for the first time in 1918-1921, after the end of World War I. In 1926 the monastery was raised to the status of an abbey within the Beuron Congregation. Between 1939 and 1945 the German monks were interned for the second time, and then for the third time as the result of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War<1947-1949>. The abbey was located in the Israeli controlled territory on mount Zion, across from the Jordanian controlled territory within the walled city.

In 1951 the abbey was separated from the Beuron Congregation and placed under the direct supervision of the Abbot-Primate of the Benedictines in Rome.

The community elected their own abbot for the first time in 1979.

Theology seminar[edit]

Since 1973 the abbey has been hosting an ecumenical year of study for outstanding students of theology from Germany, Austria and Switzerland. The curriculum encompasses biblical, Eastern Orthodox Church, Judaic and Islamic studies.

Vandalism in 2012/3[edit]

In October 2012 and in May and June 2013 the abbey was vandalized with graffiti and anti-Christian insults in Hebrew. The offensive words such as "Jesus, son of a bitch, price tag" compared Christians to monkeys and called for revenge against Jesus.

Two cars were also smeared with offensive words and all tyres were slashed. One of the gates of the nearby Greek Orthodox cemetery was also marked with graffiti. This was allegedly part of the so-called price-tag campaign by extremists for the dismantling of an illegal outpost Havat Ma'on.[5][6][7][8]


  1. ^ Or "Assumption"
  2. ^ Bargil Pixner, Wege des Messias und Stätten der Urkirche. 2., erweiterte Auflage. Brunnen, Giessen 1994, pp. 110f.
  3. ^ Mémoires de la Société nationale des antiquaires de France, tome XLVIII. The File Reference Number to this article in the French National Library in Paris is 8-O2F-762.
  4. ^ see e.g. Carl E. Olson, Sandra Meisel, The Da Vinci Hoax, 2004 (book and video documentary). ISBN 1-58617-034-1, and the main Priory of Sion article for details.
  5. ^ Another Israeli church defaced with 'price tag' graffiti, Oz Rosenberg and Nir Hasson, Oct. 3, 2012, Haaretz
  6. ^ "Jerusalem's Dormition Church suffers suspected 'price tag' attack." Nir Hasson and Gili Cohen, 31.05.13, Haaretz
  7. ^ Independent Catholic News
  8. ^ Suspected ‘price tag’ attacks reported in Jerusalem, West Bank, May 31, 2013 JTA


See also[edit]

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 31°46′20″N 35°13′44″E / 31.7722°N 35.2289°E / 31.7722; 35.2289