Chapel of the Ascension, Jerusalem

Coordinates: 31°46′45″N 35°14′42″E / 31.7791°N 35.2449°E / 31.7791; 35.2449
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Chapel of the Ascension
The Ascension Ædicule
AffiliationChristian, Islamic
Ecclesiastical or organizational statusUnder Islamic jurisdiction
LocationAt-Tur, Mount of Olives, Jerusalem
CompletedFirst church c. 390; current chapel: c. 1150

The Chapel of the Ascension (Hebrew: קפלת העלייה Qapelat ha-ʿAliyya; Greek: Εκκλησάκι της Αναλήψεως, Ekklisáki tis Analípseos; Arabic: كنيسة الصعود) is a chapel and 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, Zawiyat al-Adawiya ('the zawiya of Rabia of Basra'), it is located on a site traditionally believed to be the earthly spot where Jesus ascended into Heaven after his Resurrection. It houses a slab of stone believed to contain one of his footprints. [1][2] This article deals with two sites, the Christian site of the Ascension, and the adjacent but separate mosque built over an ancient grave.


The Chapel of the Ascension

First location of the Ascension[edit]

Almost 300 years after Jesus was said to have died, early Christians began gathering secretly in a small cave on the Mount of Olives.[3] The issuance of the Edict of Milan by the Roman Emperors Constantine and Licinius in 313 made it possible for Christians to worship without government persecution.[3]

Second location of the Ascension[edit]

By the time of the pilgrim Egeria's travels to Jerusalem in 384, the spot of veneration had been moved to the present location, so that Egeria witnessed the celebration of the Ascension at an "open hillock" uphill from the nearby cave; the cave itself had been integrated into the Constantinian Church of Eleona.[4]

4th-century church (or churches)[edit]

The first church was erected there a few years later, sometime between AD 384–390, by Poimenia, a wealthy and pious Roman aristocratic woman from the imperial family, who financed the building of the Byzantine-style church "around Christ's last footprints."[5] 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 porticoes and arches.[5]

The Imbomon, as well as the nearby Eleona Basilica and other monasteries and churches on the Mount of Olives, were destroyed by the armies of the Persian shah Khosrow II during the final phase of the Byzantine-Sassanid Wars in 614[6] (see Byzantine-Sasanian War of 602-628 and Sasanian conquest of Jerusalem).

However, a later tradition attributes the first Ascension Church at this site to Empress Helena[clarification needed] claiming that during her pilgrimage to the Holy Land between 326 and 328 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 - and on her return to Rome, she ordered the construction of two sanctuaries at these locations.[5]

7th-century church[edit]

The church was 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."[3] Note that the footprints of Christ were "impressed in the dust", not stone.

12th-century church[edit]

The reconstructed church was eventually destroyed, and rebuilt a second time by the Crusaders in the 12th century. The armies of Saladin later decimated the church, leaving only a partially intact outer 12x12-meter octagonal wall surrounding an inner 3x3-meter octagonal shrine, called a martyrium or edicule. This structure still stands today, although partially altered in the time after Saladin's 1187 conquest of Jerusalem.[7]

Umayyad repurposing; new adjacent mosque[edit]

After the fall of Jerusalem in 1187, the ruined church and monastery were abandoned by the Christians, who resettled in Acre. During this time, Saladin established the Mount of Olives as a waqf entrusted to two sheikhs, al-Salih Wali al-Din and Abu Hasan al-Hakari. This waqf was registered in a document dated 20 October 1188.[8] 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, Saladin ordered the construction of a second mosque nearby for Muslim worship while Christians continued to visit the main chapel.[9]

13th century till present time[edit]

Despite this act of accommodation by Saladin, tensions between Muslims and Christians in Jerusalem rose throughout the next 300 years. The shrine and surrounding structures saw periods of non-use and disrepair. By the 15th century, the destroyed eastern section was separated by a dividing wall and was no longer used for religious purposes[clarification needed].[9]

Currently, the chapel is under the authority of the Islamic Waqf of Jerusalem and is open to visitors of all faiths, for a nominal fee.[10]

Description of the chapel[edit]

Edicule (chapel)[edit]

The main structure of the chapel is from the Crusader era; the stone dome and the octagonal drum it stands on are Muslim additions, as are the exterior walls; only the arches and marble columns are part of the original Christian structure. The entrance faces west, and the south wall of the mosque/chapel consists of a mihrab indicating the direction of Mecca for Muslim worshippers.[9]

"Ascension Rock"[edit]

The edicule surrounds a stone slab called the "Ascension Rock". It is said to contain the right footprint of Christ, while the section bearing the left footprint was 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.[3]


Byzantine burial crypt[edit]

The mosque adjacent to the former Church to the Ascension is built on top of a Byzantine burial crypt. Each of the three Abrahamic religions attributes the tomb to a different female holy figure.

Christian tradition[edit]

The Christian tradition of Saint Pelagia is the oldest.[11] "The Life of Saint Pelagia the Harlot", the vita of a legendary 4th or 5th-century Christian hermit and penitent, Saint Pelagia of Antioch, states that she "built herself a cell on the Mount of Olives." There, she lived a holy life disguised as a monk and "wrought...many wonders." She died few years later due to her severe asceticism, "and the holy fathers bore her body to its burial."[12] Christian tradition places her cell and tomb at the site of the zawiya, adjacent and to the southwest of the former Church of the Ascension.[13]

However, most Western Christian pilgrims of the 14th century venerated the tomb as that of Saint Mary the Egyptian, although the Pelagia tradition also lives on.[11]

Jewish tradition[edit]

The Jewish tradition attributing the tomb to the prophetess Huldah is recorded from 1322 onwards,[11] starting with Estori Ha-Parhi. Another tradition exists starting in the 2nd-century, Tosefta, which places the tomb of Huldah within Jerusalem's city walls.[14]

Muslim tradition[edit]

The mid-14th-century counter-crusade propaganda work Muthir al-gharam fi ziyarat al-Quds wa-sh-Sham ("Arousing love for visiting Jerusalem and Syria"; c. 1350-51)[15][16] places the death year of Rabi'a al-'Adawiyya around 781/82 and has her buried in this burial crypt.[14] Other historians, such as al-Harawi (d. 1215) and Yaqut (1179–1229) locate Rabi'a's grave in her hometown of Basra, and attribute the Mount of Olives tomb to another Rabi'a, wife of a Sufi, Ahmad Ibn Abu el Huari, from the late Crusader and early Ayyubid period.[14] Yet another Muslim tradition attributes the grave to Rahiba bint Hasn, a woman of whom nothing is known.[14]

Rabi'a Mosque[edit]

The mosque that stands southwest to the former Church of the Ascension, known as the zawiya of Rabi'a al-'Adawiyya, consists of two structures: the upper one, or the mosque proper, and an underground chamber.[11]

The Byzantine crypt[edit]

The underground chamber is reached by a staircase, and includes a 2 m deep, 1.2 m wide, and 1.8 m high cell on its east side.[11]

On the southern wall and near the tomb, a Greek funeral inscription of the Byzantine period mentioning the name Domitilla probably indicates who the tomb belonged to, even though the belief that it held the remains of Saint Pelagia is also attested from the Byzantine period.[14]

Archaeologists Jon Seligman and Rafa Abu Raya, who carried out a short salvage excavation outside the southern wall of the mosque in 1995, have dated the underground chamber to the Byzantine period, identifying it as the burial crypt of a chapel that was part of the Church of the Ascension.[14] The crypt is situated east of the mosque, and lies opposite of the entrance. To the right of the entrance, the cenotaph or sarcophagus stands within a niche.[11][clarification needed]

The medieval mosque (upper structure)[edit]

Seligman and Abu Raya date the upper building to the medieval period, and hold an Ayyubid date to be the most likely.[14] However, Denys Pringle suggests a Crusader date, based on features such as the western entrance which could indicate an east–west orientation of the structure, and the fact that the mihrab is set into an older window niche.[11]


Across the street from the chapel is a Greek Orthodox Monastery of the Ascension with a small church built between 1987 and 1992.[17][better source needed]

South of the Ascension Chapel is the monastery containing the remains of the Constantinian Eleona Church and the 19th-century Church of the Pater Noster.

The Russian Orthodox Convent of the Ascension, built in 1870, is located about 200 meters northeast of the chapel.[18] It now houses about 40 nuns.[19] Across the street stands the Muslim Makassed Hospital.

Further away to the northeast is the German Protestant Ascension Church, part of the Augusta Victoria compound.


  1. ^ UN Conciliation Commission (1949). United Nations Conciliation Commission for Palestine Working Paper on the Holy Places.
  2. ^ Cust, L. G. A. (1929). The Status Quo in the Holy Places. H.M.S.O. for the High Commissioner of the Government of Palestine.
  3. ^ a b c d "Chapel of the Ascension". Retrieved 2022-11-16.
  4. ^ Murphy-O'Connor, Jerome (2008). The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide from Earliest Times to 1700. OUP Oxford. ISBN 978-0-19-152867-5.
  5. ^ a b c Kirk, Martha Ann (2004). Women of Bible Lands: A Pilgrimage to Compassion and Wisdom. Liturgical Press. ISBN 978-0-8146-5156-8
  6. ^ Frendo, David (2000). "Byzantine-Iranian Relations before and after the Death of Khusrau II: A Critical Examination of the Evidence". Bulletin of the Asia Institute. 14: 27–45. ISSN 0890-4464.
  7. ^ "Chapel of the Ascension - On the Mount of Olives - In the Holy city of Jerusalem". Retrieved 2022-11-16.
  8. ^ Pringle, Denys (1993). The Churches of the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem: Volume 3, The City of Jerusalem: A Corpus. Cambridge University Press. pp. 74–76. ISBN 978-0-521-39038-5.
  9. ^ a b c Pringle, Denys (1993). The Churches of the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem: Volume 3, The City of Jerusalem: A Corpus. Cambridge University Press. pp. 79–82. ISBN 978-0-521-39038-5.
  10. ^ Ordinary Jerusalem, 1840-1940 : opening new archives, revisiting a global city. Angelos D̲alachanēs, Vincent Lemire. Leiden. 2018. pp. 490–509. ISBN 978-90-04-37574-1 OCLC 1032291352.
  11. ^ a b c d e f g Pringle, Denys (1993). The Churches of the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem: Volume 3, The City of Jerusalem: A Corpus. Cambridge University Press. p. 344. ISBN 978-0-521-39038-5.
  12. ^ "Chrysostom Press — Lives of the Saints — Pelagia the Nun". 2010-02-06. Retrieved 2022-11-17.
  13. ^ "Chapel of the Ascension Complex - Madain Project (en)". Retrieved 2022-11-17.
  14. ^ a b c d e f g Seligman, Jon; Raya, Rafa Abu; זליגמן, יוחנן (ג'ון); אבו ריא, ראפע (2001). "מקדש לשלוש דתות בהר הזיתים: קבר חולדה הנביאה; קבר פלאגיה הקדושה; קבר רביע אל-עדוויה / A Shrine of Three Religions on the Mount of Olives: Tomb of Ḥulda the Prophetess; Grotto of Saint Pelagia; Tomb of Rabi'a al-'Adawiyya". 'Atiqot / עתיקות. 42: 221–236. ISSN 0792-8424.
  15. ^ Elad, Amikam (1995). Medieval Jerusalem and Islamic Worship: Holy Places, Ceremonies, Pilgrimage. BRILL. ISBN 978-90-04-10010-7
  16. ^ Setton, Kenneth Meyer (1985). A History of the Crusades: The Impact of the Crusades on the Near East. Univ of Wisconsin Press. p. 37. ISBN 978-0-299-09144-6.
  17. ^ "Holy Monastery of the Ascension". Retrieved 2022-11-17.
  18. ^ "Русский Спасо-Вознесенский женский монастырь на Елеоне". Русский Спасо-Вознесенский женский монастырь на Елеоне. Retrieved 2022-11-17.
  19. ^ "The Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia - Official Website". Retrieved 2022-11-17.


External links[edit]

Media related to Chapel of the Ascension at Wikimedia Commons

31°46′45″N 35°14′42″E / 31.7791°N 35.2449°E / 31.7791; 35.2449