“The Teacher asks: Where is my guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples? – He will show you a large room upstairs, furnished and ready.” (Mark 14:14-15)
The Biblical Cenacle is the “large upper room furnished and prepared” that hosted the scene of the Last Supper, which was the Passover meal Jesus and his disciples ate together before Christ’s capture in Gethsemane on theMount of Olives.
The Gospels do not mention the exact location of the Cenacle. However, the tradition which dates to the times of early Christianity, spots the place on the Mount Zion just outside of the Zion Gate. At the time of Christ, the area was supposed to be a part of the proper city of Jerusalem.
The place of the Upper Room became associated not only with the site of Lord’s Last Supper and the institution of Eucharist, but as well with the events of Apparition of the Risen Christ and the Descent of the Holy Spirit.
History of the Cenacle
The foundations of the church of the Cenacle date back at least to the 3rd century A.D. or maybe even earlier, thus many scholars associate it with the ‘little church of God’ mentioned in the writings of Epiphanus of Salamis (310 – 403), which he based on documents from the 2nd century.
“Hadrian… [135 A.D.] found the city entirely raised to the ground and the Temple of God destroyed and tramped upon, with the exception of some houses and a certain small church of the Christians, which had been constructed in that place, in which the disciples, after the Saviour was taken up to heaven from Mount Oliviet, betaking themselves, mounted to the Cenacle.”
The church was reconstructed in 4th century by St. Maximus and was first known as the ‘Upper Church of the Appostles’, and then in the 5th century it was transformed into a great basilica by the Archbishop John and named ‘Sion, Mother of all the Churches’.
In 415, relics of the Protomartyr St. Stephen were taken to Sion from Cafargamala and remained there until the Empress Euxodia had finished in 460 the basilica to the north of Jerusalem, especially built to receive them.
The ‘Mother of all the Churches’, as most of the other Christian edifices in the area, was razed to the ground by the Persians in 614, however soon after it was restored by the Patriarch Modestus.
The Christians took the words that St. Peter said on the day of Descent of the Holy Spirit: “He [King David] died and was buried, and his grave is here with us to this very day” for the indication of a presence of his David’s sepulchre in the proximity of the Upper Room. Thus with time a tradition, also strengthened by the previous placement of St. Stephen’s tomb in one of the chapels, stated that the King David’s burial was around.
The Crusaders built there a three nave edifice and named it ‘St. Mary’s of Mount Sion’. During their rule, none of the pilgrims to the Holy Land mentioned in their writings the presence of King David’s tomb there, however under the power of Saladin, who captured Jerusalem in 1187, its legend revived. The Franciscan friars, who took over the possession of the Cenacle in 1336, kept the tradition as well.
In the 14th century, the complex was designated as having two floors, with each shared on two sections. One of the rooms on the lower floor, which with time was taken by Muslims, contained the tombs of David and Solomon. On the upper floor was the place of the Last Supper as well as the Chapel of the Holy Ghost, which was actually restored only in the middle of the 15th century.
In 1429, Jews bought the Chapel of David, which was not immediately transformed into a synagogue, but yet stayed in the Muslim possession. The chapel was however returned to the Franciscans in the very next year.
In couple of the following years, the monastery was destroyed and the friars received a very had time. Later, some of the edifice’s chapels were being passed back and forth from the hands of the Franciscans to the Muslims, who kept the tradition about Prophet David’s tomb being placed there. In 1928, also the Upper Room was turned into a mosque and a mihrab was erected there.
Since 1948 the Cenacle room is open to the visitors. However, the Franciscans are permitted to have there a mass only twice a year: on the day of Pentecost and on the Holy Thursday. Christian pilgrim groups usually have there a short silent prayer when visiting.
The former Chapel of David is now a Jewish shrine of the King David’s Tomb. A statue of the king decorates the entrance. The room is divided into two sections for prayer: one for men on the right and one for women on the left.
How to get there
The Upper Room is located just outside of the Sion Gate of Jerusalem’s Old City. After exiting through the gate, you will see a gray door of a Franciscan Convet and on its side there will be a sign ‘Coenaculum’ directing you to the right. When turning, in front of your eyes will show up the magnificent Dormition Abbey church. Follow along church’s wall to the left until you will see a statue of King David. In front of the statue are the door you shall enter and take stairs up.
The shrine of King David’s Tomb is located on the lower floor of the same building.
Opening Hours: Summer (April – September) 8:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. 3:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m. Winter (October – March) 8:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. 3:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Tel.: 02 671-3597
Did you know?
Another tradition locates the Upper Room of the Last Supper in the Syriac Orthodox church of St. Mark. The monastery is located in the heart of Jerusalem’s Old City in the Armenian Quarter on the junction of Ararat and St. Mark streets.
Article cover photo credit: Jeff Mitchum
Opening Hours: Summer (April – September) 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. Winter (October – March) 7:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. ; Sundays 11:00 a.m. – 4 p.m.
Tel.: 02 628-3304 or 052 509-0478
Beata Andonia works for the Bethlehem tourist bureau and blogs regularly about Bethlehem for Travelujah-Holy Land Tours. She is originally from Poland and moved to Bethlehem in 2010.
*If you are interested in visiting the Holy Land and would like to plan an individual or group pilgrimage please contact Travelujah