The Chapel of the Ascension (Hebrew: קפלת העלייה, Greek: Εκκλησάκι της Αναλήψεως) is a shrine located on the Mount of Olives, in the At-Tur district of Jerusalem. Part of a larger complex consisting first of a Christian church and monastery, then an Islamicmosque, it is located on a site the faithful traditionally believe to be the earthly spot where Jesusascended into Heaven forty days after his resurrection. It houses a slab of stone believed to contain one of his footprints.
Shortly after the death of Jesus, early Christians began gathering in secret to commemorate his Ascension at a small cave on the Mount of Olives. The issuance of the Edict of Milan by the Roman EmperorConstantine I in 313 made it possible for Christians to worship overtly without fear of government persecution. By the time of the pilgrim Egeria’s travels to Jerusalem in 384, the spot of veneration had been moved to the present location, uphill from the cave. Saint Helena, mother of Constantine I, traveled to the holy land between 326 and 328. During her pilgrimage she identified two spots on the Mount of Olives as being associated with Jesus’ life. The place of his Ascension, and a grotto associated with his teaching of the Lord’s Prayer. On her return to Rome she ordered the construction of two sanctuary complexes at these locations. During the 5th century Saint Pelagia of Antioch lived here as a hermit and penitent in a grotto.
The first complex constructed on the site of the present chapel was known as Imbomon (Greek for “on the hill”). It was a rotunda, open to the sky, surrounded by circular porticos and arches. In 390 AD, Poimenia, a wealthy and pious Roman aristocratic woman of the imperial family financed the addition of a Byzantine style church at the site of Helena’s original construction. The second sanctuary at this location, also Byzantine in design, was called “Eleona Basilica” (elaion in Greek means “olive garden”, from elaia “olive tree,” and has an oft-mentioned similarity to eleos meaning “mercy”). This shrine was built on the sacred grotto where Jesus is said to have taught his disciples to pray the Our Father. The original 4th century church, known today as the Church of the Pater Noster was partially reconstructed in the early 20th century but remains unfinished. Most of these churches and their surrounding structures were destroyed by the armies of the PersianShahKhosrau II during the final phase of the Byzantine-Sassanid Wars in 614.
It was subsequently rebuilt in the late 7th century. The Frankish bishop and pilgrim Arculf, in relating his pilgrimage to Jerusalem in about the year 680, described this church as “a round building open to the sky, with three porticoes entered from the south. Eight lamps shone brightly at night through windows facing Jerusalem. Inside was a central edicule containing the footprints of Christ, plainly and clearly impressed in the dust, inside a railing.” The reconstructed church was eventually destroyed, and rebuilt a second time by the Crusaders in the 12th-century. This final church was eventually destroyed by the armies of Salah ad-Din, leaving only a partially intact outer 12×12 meter octagonal wall surrounding an inner 3×3 meter shrine, also octagonal, (called a martyrium or “Edicule”) remaining. This structure still stands today.
The main octagonal ædicule surrounds the Ascension rock, said to contain the right footprint of Christ., the section bearing the left footprint having been taken to the Al-Aqsa Mosque in the Middle Ages. The faithful believe that the impression was made as Jesus ascended into Heaven and is venerated as the last point on earth touched by the incarnate Christ.