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As most of the Gospel’s stories regarding Jesus’ last days do, the ascension also took place in Jerusalem and is commemorated with a special chapel on the Mount of Olives. The little known Chapel of the Ascension is a holy site that is believed to mark the place where Jesus ascended into heaven. The small round church, which is also used as a mosque and is facilitated by the Islamic property trust, contains a stone imprinted with the footprints of Jesus when he made the ascent to heaven, according to tradition.
Highlights of the Church of the Ascension in the Holy Land
The Chapel of the Ascension features a stone with what is thought to be the right footprint of Jesus that he left behind as he ascended into heaven. The left foot imprint was apparently taken to Al Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount centuries ago.
All three monotheistic religions revere a small burial crypt next to the chapel. Jews believe it contains Huldah, one of seven female prophets mentioned in 2 Kings 22:14-20, Christians believe Saint Pelagia is buried there from the 5th century and Muslims believe the 8th-century holy woman Rabi'a al-Adawiya, for which the mosque is named, is buried here.
Several Christian communities celebrate mass during the Feast of Ascension in the chapel courtyard each year. Latin Christians are permitted to celebrate inside the building.
Background of the Chapel of the Ascension in the Holy Land
The site of the chapel has been connected to the ascension of Jesus since the 4th Century. Since the 12th century, the site has been in Muslim hands but with access for Christians. The present day chapel is from the Crusader era with the octagonal drum and stone dome added after the Muslims took over the site.
The octagon-shaped dome was built in the center of an enclosed yard over Byzantine and Crusader structures. The exterior of the dome walls is adorned with entwined foliage and animal motifs. A Russian Orthodox church was built nearby in 1870 marking another site of the ascension.
(Photos: Courtesy of AllAboutJerusalem.com)
History of the Chapel of the Ascension in the Holy Land
Early Christians honored the ascension in a cave on the Mount of Olives and then eventually on the present open site, uphill from the cave. The church was first built around 390 by Poimenia, a Roman lady, but was destroyed by the Persians in 614. It was later restored and then around 1150 rebuilt by the Crusaders.
When the Crusaders fell, Salah al-Din gave the church to two of his followers in 1198. The octagon shaped Dome was built in the center of an enclosed yard over Byzantine and Crusaders period structures. A mosque and minaret were added next to the chapel in 1620 and the site remains in Muslim possession.
The Chapel of the Ascension in the Bible
Forty days after rising from the dead, Jesus ascended into heaven from the Mount of Olives. He was addressing his disciples and then was taken up to heaven as they watched.
“When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy.” Luke 24:50-51
“He was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. ‘Men of Galilee,’ they said, ‘why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.’” Acts 1:9-11
The site is open daily and access is given in exchange for a modest fee. Ring a bell for admission if the door is not open.
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