The Mount Of Olives PDF Print E-mail
Written by Stephen Langfur
Article Index
The Mount Of Olives
City Of David
Solomon to Herod
Pater Noster Church

The Pater Noster ("Our Father") Church
and the Mosque of Jesus' Ascension

Among the churches funded by the Byzantine Emperor Constantine, three were built over caves: that of the Nativity in Bethlehem, that of the Resurrection in Jerusalem (later called the Holy Sepulcher), and a Church of the Disciples and the Ascension on the Mount of Olives. A visitor known as the Bordeaux pilgrim reported seeing the third in 333. Yet in 384, according to Egeria, Christians were celebrating the ascension on higher ground about thirty yards to the north. Here, by 392, a small round church had been built. The cave in Constantine's basilica (now called Eleona, "of olives") came to be associated with something else that occurred on this mountain: Jesus' teaching about the final days as reported in Matthew 24:1 - 26:2. This was the text that Egeria heard here on Tuesday of Holy Week. (Murphy-O'Connor , p. 125.)


When the Persians broke through the bounds of the Byzantine Empire in 614, they destroyed both churches. The Byzantines, having regained control in 628, restored the one on the higher ground. The Eleona with its cave remained in ruins, it would seem, although the memory persisted that Jesus had taught here. A shift occurred, however, in the notion of what teaching he had delivered. It was now thought to be the Lord's Prayer. When Luke reports Jesus' teaching this prayer (11:1-4), he does not name a particular place. In Mark 11:25-26, however, while on the Mt. of Olives, Jesus says, "Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone; so that your Father, who is in heaven, may also forgive you your transgressions. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your transgressions." Recognizing this as part of the prayer that is given in Luke, people located the whole prayer on the mountain, in the cave that already carried an association with Jesus' teaching. When the Crusaders erected a church here in the 12th century, they called it "Pater Noster." Crusader pilgrims reported seeing the Lord's Prayer inscribed on plaques.

In 1868 an Italian woman, Aurelia Bossie, Princess de la Tour d'Auvergne, built a cloister here, on the inner wall of which she put 32 copies of the Lord's Prayer in different languages. Later she added a Carmelite convent. One sees her sarcophagus while passing through.

In 1910 the French discovered the foundations of the Byzantine basilica with the cave that had been its focus. Part of the cloister was on top of them, and it was moved. The French then undertook to built a basilica on the model of Constantine's, but they never finished: hence the open space around the cave. This cave cuts into a shaft tomb (kokh) from the 1st century AD.

Today the Lord's Prayer appears here in 110 languages.

The Mosque of Ascension

Just to the north, a bit higher, is the Mosque of the Ascension, which includes the place where the church of that name stood in 384. The fourth Sura of the Qur'an states that the Jews claimed to have killed Jesus (Isa), but Allah thwarted their plans, taking him up. There is no contradiction, then, in having a mosque that commemorates Jesus' ascension.

When we enter, on our right is a small mosque (built in 1620), from whose gallery one can get a view of the area. We descend and head through the open courtyard toward the central domed structure. High in the octagonal wall around the courtyard are hooks, which hold the awnings that shade the Christian congregants here on the Feast of Ascension (fortieth day after Easter).

At the place of the dome, in 392, stood a church. After the Persian destruction in 614, the Byzantines restored it. A pilgrim named Arculf described it in 680 as a round structure, open to the sky, as befits the ascension of Jesus. In the dust of its floor, he wrote, were the indestructible footprints of Jesus. The Crusaders did some restoration work on the shrine, but after 1187 it passed into the hands of Saladin, whose followers rebuilt it with a dome. One of Jesus' footprints was then transferred to the al-Aqsa Mosque.


The Pater Noster Church is open as follows: Monday-Saturday, 8:30-11:45; 15:00-16:45
(Sunday closed). Wear modest dress .

Mosque of the Ascension: If the door is not open, ring the bell. Modest dress .