Chapel of the Ascension (Jerusalem)

By the Editors of the Madain Project

The Chapel of the Ascension (קפלת העלייה‎ Qapelat ha-ʿAliyya), 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 Islamic mosque, it is located on a site the faithful traditionally believe to be the earthly spot where Jesus ascended into Heaven after his resurrection.

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The Ascension Chapel at the Mount of Olives, houses a slab of stone believed to contain one of his footprints. The Status Quo, a 250-year-old understanding between religious communities, applies to the site. After the conquest of Jerusalem in 1187, Christians abandoned the church and monastery at the site. Salah ul-Din established Mount of Olives as a Waqf, the chapel was converted to a mosque and a mehrab was installed in it, but the non-muslim pilgrimage continued to the chapel.

Arculf writes about "the footprints of Christ, plainly and clearly impressed in the dust", which he saw in ca. 680 CE. 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."

circa 1187 CE

Today the Chapel of Ascension is located in the courtyard of a 12th century mosque with Chapel of Ascension to the left and minaret of the mosque to the right. As a sign of goodwill the chapel was converted back to a Christian structure in 1189 on the orders of Saladin, octagonal walls and guard towers were also built to enhance the existing building. Its architecture closely resembles to that of Dome of Ascension, today in the Masjid al-Aqsa complex.

Architecture of the Chapel

circa 1187 CE

Chapel Exterior
The main structure of the chapel, that stands today, is from the Crusader era; the stone dome (inspect) and the octagonal drum it stands on are Muslim additions. The entrance is from the west. The exterior octagonal walls are decorated with arches and slim marble columns, which support fine 12th-century capitals (inspect). These feature entwined foliage, two with animal motifs featuring winged quadrapeds with the heads of birds.

circa 1187 CE

The interior of the chapel consists of a mihrab indicating the direction of Mecca in the south wall. On the floor, inside a stone frame, is a slab (inspect) of stone called the "Ascension Rock". The 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.

circa 1187 CE

"Foot-print" Slab
On the floor, inside an asymmetrically placed frame, is a slab of stone imprinted with the right footprint of Christ. The section bearing the left footpring was taken to the al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount, where it was placed behind the pulpit there, in the Middle Ages. In the 12th century the Crusaders rebuilt an octagonal chapel, the footprints were still venerated, but now they were reported to be carved into the face of the rock.

Archaeological Remains

circa 1187 CE

Remains of the Byzantine-era Church
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 porticoes and arches. Sometime between 384-390 CE, Poimenia, a wealthy and pious Roman aristocratic woman of the imperial family financed the building of a Byzantine-style church "around Christ's last footprints". Only a few of the architectural remains (inspect) are found from this period. The Imbomon was destroyed by the armies of the Persian Shah Khosrau II during the final phase of the Byzantine-Sassanid Wars in 614.


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