Mount Zion the highest point in ancient Jerusalem, is just outside the walls of the Old City. The name appears nine times in the Bible. The meaning refers to either a castle or a dry place (on the border of the Wilderness of Judea). The term Mount Zion had been historically associated with the City of David and later with the Temple Mount, but its meaning has migrated and it is now used as the name of ancient Jerusalem’s “Upper City” or “Western Hill”. The term is also used for the entire Land of Israel. Strangely enough the southern half of Mount Zion was left outside the walls built by Ottoman Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent.
Ottoman Legend at the Zion Gate
According to local legend, the two engineers who planned the restoration of the Old City walls in 1538 mistakenly left Mt. Zion and King David’s tomb outside the walls. The Turkish sultan was so enraged that he had the two beheaded. Two graves in the inner courtyard of Jaffa Gate are said to be those of the architects.
On Mount Zion you can visit the Church of the Apostles, Dormition Church, Cenacle Room of the Last Supper and King David’s Tomb.
The 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. For several years it was called Abbey of Hagia Maria Sion, after the Basilica of Hagia Sion that stood on this spot during the Byzantine period.
The site of the Dormition Abbey was the first center of life of the primitive Church. The first-century Christians met on Mount Zion, where they built a Judaeo-Christian synagogue-church that became known as the Church of the Apostles. Three of the walls of King David’s Tomb stands may be from the synagogue-church used by the first-century Judaeo-Christians. This is the site where the Virgin Mary is said to have died, or fell into ‘eternal sleep’.
The Church of the Dormition
The great Byzantine basilica Church of Hagia Sion (Holy Zion), known as the “Mother of all Churches” covered the entire area now occupied by the Church of the Dormition, the Cenacle and the Tomb of David. This is the highest point in ancient Jerusalem with a beautiful view of the Old City. In 614 AD it was destroyed by the Persians. This is where the Virgin Mary died — or “fell asleep” i.e. “dormition”.
The Basilica of the Dormition was constructed by Kaiser Wilhelm II, designed by Heinrich Renard, beginning in 1900. The church was built in response to a request to have a German Catholic church in the city following the Kaiser’s support for the construction of the Lutheran Church. Its Latin name is “Dormitio Beatae Mariae Virginis” (Holy Sleep of St. Mary).
The Present Church of the Dormition
The present church is a fortress-like building, with a conical roof 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. There is also a bell tower. The bell tower of the Hagia Maria Sion Abbey (formerly the Abbey of the Dormition), a Benedictine monastery shares the skyline. The basilica is built on two levels with the high altar and monastic choir on the upper of these, and the crypt with its Marian shrine on the lower. In the centre, under a rotunda, is a simple bier on which rests a life-size statue of Mary, fallen asleep in death. Although Ephesus claims that Mary died there in Turkey, the Tomb of Mary is in Jerusalem at the foot of the Mount of Olives.
Out of regard for the nearby Jewish and Muslim sacred place of David’s Tomb, the bell tower of the Cenacle is set far enough away that its shadow does not touch David’s Tomb. The Cenacle is where traditionally the Last Supper took place. It is not directly accessible from the church.
Cenacle – The Room of the Last Supper – The Upper Room
In the Christian tradition Mount Zion plays a important role as the meeting place of Jesus’ disciples. On Mount Zion the venerated building complex of the “Cenacle” stands. In the “Upper Room” Jesus celebrated the Last Supper with his disciples before his passion and death. The ground floor of the Cenacle is the Tomb of David. To Christians, the Cenacle is the birthplace of the Church the scene of Mary’s death bed and the site of the coming of the Holy Spirit on the disciples.
The Upper Room visited by tourists today is a Crusader structure with later remains of a mosque.
King David’s Tomb
When I made “aliyah” in the 60’s, this was the most holy place in Jerusalem and a must for all tourists. Today, most historians and archeologists today do not regard “King David’s Tomb” to be the actual burial place of King David. (1 Kings: 2:10) King David was probably buried in the city of David, which was on the original Mount Zion. Christian Crusaders built the present memorial on Mount Zion called the Tomb of King David.
View from the roof of King David’s Tomb
The Chamber of the Holocaust
The Chamber of the Holocaust (Martef HaShoah) is a small Holocaust museum, the precursor of Yad Vashem, is also located on Mount Zion. It was Israel’s first Holocaust museum. Martef Hashaoh serves as a cemetery for the martyrs of the Shoah and a place of prayer. The cave-like rooms remind one of the dark, bitter exile and the darkness of the Holocaust . The Chief Rabbinate chose Mount Zion as the site for the Chamber of the Holocaust so that the ashes and memories of the survivors would lay at the foot of the tomb of King David.
This is where Oskar Schindler, a Righteous Gentile who saved the lives of 1,200 Jews in the Holocaust, is buried here in the Catholic Franciscan Cemetery . Schindler, a member of the Nazi Party from 1939, employed almost 1200 Jewish workers, whom he protected from the Nazis. He is the only member of the Nazi party buried there.
The Protestant Mount Zion Cemetery (a.k.a., Jerusalem Mount Zion Protestant Cemetery is located on the southwestern slope of Mount Zion. Here were buried:
- A number of Bishops of Jerusalem
- British and German diplomats and officials
- 144 graves of Palestine Policemen who died in service during the British Mandate
- Austro-Hungarian, British, and German soldiers killed in action or else deceased in service in the Holy Land
The Cemetery is in the backyard of the Bishop Gobat School (today Jerusalem University College). Here is the grave of Conrad Schick the famous German architect, archaeologist and Protestant missionary who settled in Jerusalem in the mid-nineteenth century, hymn writer Horatio G. Spafford, and archaeologists Sir Flinders Petrie (Petrie donated his head and thus his brain to the Royal College of Surgeons of London) and James Leslie Starkey.
The Armenian cemetery is adjacent to St. Savior Armenian Convent and the Biblical House of Caiaphas. The centerpiece of the cemetery is a monument erected in memory of the fallen heros of the Armenian Legion in 1917. It also serves as a reminder of the Armenian victims of the Turkish genocide in 1915. Note the bed head stones, floor graves and Armenian ceramic tiles.
Bearing Jerusalem’s earliest biblical name in Hebrew and English, this gate’s Arabic name is the Gate of the Prophet David (Bab an-Nabi Dawud), as the Tomb of King David, on adjacent Mount Zion, is only a few steps away. Another Arabic name of the gate is Gate of the Jewish Quarter (Bab Harat al-Yahud). Likewise, the Hebrew name is Zion Gate because it leads in the direction of Mount Zion. Zion Gate is one of eight gates in the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem.
Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu
Church of Saint Peter in Gallicantu is a Roman Catholic church located on the eastern slope of Mount Zion.
The church takes its name from the Latin word “Gallicantu”, meaning cock’s-crow. This is in commemoration of Peter’s triple rejection of Jesus:
Jesus said to him, “Truly I tell you, this day, this very night, before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times:
”Jesus said to him, “Truly I tell you, this day, this very night, before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times.” (Mark 14:30)
According to tradition the appearance of Jesus before the high priest Caiaphas is believed to have been at the site of the Church of St Peter in Gallicantu here on Mount Zion.