It was my last full day in Jerusalem, and I wasn’t sure how to spend the afternoon. I had prioritized the sights in the ancient city and thanks to a furious travel style, achieved most of my goals. That’s why I found myself sitting on a bench near the Jaffa gate, a primary entrance to Jerusalem’s Old City, flipping through the guide book looking for areas I had missed. I skipped past the page before returning to it, scanning and deciding that would be my afternoon activity – Mt. Zion.
I had read about the rich history of Mt. Zion before leaving home, but some of the claims to historical fact seemed dubious, so I skipped it at first. Walking along the ancient path from the Citadel though, I knew I had made the right decision. As I made my way through the Armenian Quarter to the Zion Gate, I was determined to see for myself what all the fuss was about.
One thing that is not in doubt is the extreme age of this corner of the city, and its importance in the formation of the Christian faith. I rounded a corner and the first important building popped into view, Dormition Abbey. The Benedictine Abbey is built on the site were tradition holds that the Virgin Mary passed into eternity, hence dormition. The current church dates from the 19th century, although there is a long tradition of religious edifices on the site, which is next to the site of the Last Supper.
I passed by the Abbey, turned left, navigated the confusing doorways and stairwells until I finally found the Cenacle, the supposed site of the Last Supper.
The site of the Cenacle is indeed ancient, and is important to the Christian faith not only for being the site of the Last Supper, but also for its role as the lodgings for the Apostles when they were in Jerusalem. A holy hostel I guess; sorry, couldn’t resist. Whether or not the Last Supper actually happened on this site, there is evidence that structures here have played a vital role in the development of Christianity since at least the 4th century.
I stood in the room, larger than I had imagined, with its Crusader era architecture and the Islamic decor from when the building was under Muslim control. I unfortunately was accompanied by a large tour group, all of whom were talking at the tops of their lungs, their banter ricocheting off of the buttresses and bare walls like verbal bullets. I tried to get a feel for the place, for its importance, but could not. Instead I took some pictures and retreated, hoping to get ahead of the annoying hoard of coach bus riders.
I meandered through the rest of the complex, home to both real and dubious sites of historical value. The most bizarre was the “Tomb” of King David, which no one believes is the actual tomb, yet it still maintains a place of holy honor. If the religious authorities in Israel don’t think it’s his tomb, then why venerate it? I was confused, but took a photo of the 12th century tomb before wandering back through the labyrinthine halls to the main road leading away from Mt. Zion.
I looked at my watch and noticed that it took me twenty minutes to explore one of the most famous buildings in the Christian faith, the location where the concept and practice of transubstantiation first took place. I wasn’t sure if I should be proud or ashamed, but I didn’t worry about it and instead strapped on my daypack and went in search of an afternoon snack.