Between 1998 and 2006 the community was known as the Hagia Maria Sion Abbey of the Virgin Mary, in reference to the Basilica of Hagia Maria Sion that formerly stood on this spot, but resumed the original name during the 2006 100th anniversary celebrations. Hagia Maria Sion is now the name of the foundation supporting the abbey's buildings, community and academic work.
Site and building
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.
The architect and buildings manager of the Diocese of Cologne Heinrich Renard (1868–1928) investigated the site in 1899 and discovered the remains of the Byzantine church of "Hagia Sion" and also of other churches. Connected with this is the thesis of Bargil Pixner of a pre-Crusader Church of Zion, Jerusalem. Direction of construction was entrusted to the architect Theodor Sandel, 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 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.
The community elected their own abbot for the first time in 1979.
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.
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.
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 following the murder of Eviatar Borovsky.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Dormition Church.|
- (German) Website of Dormition Abbey