Chapel of the Ascension Complex (Jerusalem)

By the Editors of the Madain Project

The Chapel of the Ascension complex is a religious establishment consisting of a medieval Crusader-era free standing dome-chapel, a mosque, a Christian monastery and a funerary annex (burial-crypt) attributed to Islamic saint Rabi'a al-Adawiyya, most commonly known as the Rabia Basri. It is located on the Mount of Olives, in the At-Tur district of Jerusalem

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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".

It was subsequently rebuilt in the late 7th century CE. The Frankish bishop and pilgrim Arculf, in relating his pilgrimage to Jerusalem in about the year 680 CE, described this church as "a round building open to the sky, with three porticoes entered from the south.

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 12x12 meter octagonal wall surrounding an inner 3x3 meter shrine, also octagonal, called a martyrium or edicule. This structure still stands today, in a form partially altered in the time after Saladin's 1187 conquest of Jerusalem.

Notable Structures

circa 1187 CE

Ascension Chapel
The Ascension Chapel is a small domed structure, on the Mount of Olives, purportedly built on the spot where Jesus, according to Christian tradition, ascended to heaven. Today it is part of a larger complex consisting first of a Christian church and monastery, then an Islamic mosque. The main structure of the chapel of the Ascension is from the Crusader era; the octagonal drum and stone dome are Muslim-era additions. The exterior walls are decorated with arches and marble columns. The entrance is from the west, 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 of stone called the "Ascension Rock".

circa 1187 CE

Mosque of the Ascension Chapel
The complex was converted to an Islamic mosque, and a mihrab installed in it after the Muslim took the city in 1187 CE. Subsequently Because the vast majority of pilgrims to the site were Christian, as a gesture of compromise and goodwill Salah ad-Din ordered the construction, two years later, of a second mosque attached to the outer wall for Muslim worship while Christians continued to visit the main chapel. Also around this time the complex was fortified with towers, walls, and guarded by watchman.

circa 1187 CE

Tomb of Rabia al-Adawiyya
The tomb or Maqam of Rabia al-Adawiyya stands southwest of the main chapel enclosure. Also known as the zawiya of Rabi'a al-'Adawiyya, consists of two edifices: the upper one, or the mosque proper; and at the lower end of a staircase connecting the two structures; an underground chamber or burial cave, which includes a 2 meters deep, 1.2 meters wide and 1.8 m high cell on its east side. The burial crypt is revered by three separate monotheistic religions, although opinion differs on the occupant. Jews believe it contains the 7th-century BCE prophetess Huldah, Christians believe it to be the tomb of the 5th-century saint Pelagia the harlot, or the penitent, one of three saints all known as Pelagia of Antioch; while Muslims maintain that the 8th-century Sufi mystic and wali, Rabi'a al-Adawiyya is buried there.


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