The Chapel of the Ascension
Did Jesus Rise Into Heaven From This Spot?
We never miss the opportunity to let our Octagon Tour groups stand in the same spot where Jesus made His last contact with the world He made.
Location – At the top of the Mount of Olives
Map Coordinates - 31.778907, 35.244986
Merged Gospels story - 298
This is a place on the summit of the Mount of Olives where early Christians believed that Jesus last stood on the earth before being taken up into Heaven. This is the Chapel of the Ascension, a place that some people say bears the footprint of Jesus Christ.
The History of the Church.
Before Christianity was legalized in 313 AD, early believers celebrated the ascension of Jesus in secret, in a cave that was not too far from here on the Mount of Olives – a place that we now call the Eleona Cave in the Convent of the Pater Foster. That’s the spot where Jesus taught the Lord’s prayer. Back then Christians didn’t want to worship in the actual spot of Christ’s ascension, because that was out in the open, and they didn’t want to be persecuted. So they celebrated the ascension of Christ secretly, in a cave that was just about a block away.
In the year 324 AD the first Christian Roman Emperor, Constantine I, sent His aged mother, the Empress Helena, to the Holy Land to build at least three churches – one of them was on the spot where Jesus last made physical contact with the world He made. When Helena came to the Holy Land, she started more than just three churches. On the Mount of Olives she identified two places where there should be churches. One was at the Eleona Cave, to celebrate the teaching of the Lord’s Prayer, and the other one was here – the location of Christ’s ascension into heaven. Even though Helena ordered a church to be built here, construction didn’t start right away, but several decades later.
Jesus ascends into the air at the site of the Chapel of the Ascension.
The small chapel that you see in the center of this courtyard covers the place where it is believed that Jesus last stood before He rose into the heavens. But this little chapel was not the entire church. The outer walls that can be seen around the chapel were built in the fifteenth century, and they show us the actual size of a great octagonal rotunda that once stood there.
There has never been a roof on this church – not even since the beginning. It didn’t make sense to the builders to put a roof on the site where Jesus was taken up into heaven. It seemed to them that worshippers should have an unobstructed view of the sky, so this became a church with no roof.
The Persian army rode into Jerusalem in the year 614 AD, and they destroyed most of the churches in this city, including both this one, and also the church that was built at the Eleona Cave, just a block away to the south.
This church at this site was rebuilt a little later in that same century, and it looked pretty much like it did originally.
It was destroyed again in the year 1009 AD by a Muslim army from Egypt, and once again it was rebuilt by the Crusaders during the twelfth century.
The Crusaders were eventually defeated by the Muslim ruler Saladin in 1187 AD, and once again the church was demolished. But it wasn’t the Christians who rebuilt the church this time. It was Saladin himself, because he wanted to turn this church into a mosque, which is a Muslim prayer room.
Why would Saladin want to build a mosque on the spot where Jesus rose into the air? It’s simple. Muslims believe that Jesus was a prophet, and they also believe that He ascended into heaven on this very spot. So they were OK with everything that this site is about. This is a holy site to them.
The Muslims made a few final alterations to this little chapel in the center of the rotunda. It used to be that there were no walls around this chapel. It was open-air with just pillars and arches around the sides. It didn’t have a dome either. Just like the entire rotunda, this small chapel was also open to the sky. But Saladin decided to block off the walls of the chapel, and then put a stone dome on the top.
The mihrab on the wall, with the “footprint of Jesus” on the floor.
One of the first things that you see when you enter the chapel is a Muslim prayer niche in the wall, called the mihrab. That was put here by Saladin when he converted this chapel into a mosque. The mihrab points toward Mecca in Saudi Arabia, which is the direction in which Muslims are commanded to pray. Why Mecca? Mecca is the birthplace of Muhammad, the founder of Islam.
Here’s something that Saladin didn’t expect. Even though this was now a mosque, more Christians were visiting this place than there were Muslims. As an act of goodwill, two years after Saladin took over, he built a separate mosque next door for the Muslims to worship in, and from that time forward, this little chapel was used exclusively for Christian worship.
Around the walls of this open-air church you see a few altars. These altars belong to each of several Christian denominations that all put on festivals in this courtyard celebrating the ascension of Jesus. The hooks in the walls are used by these Christian groups to hang awnings, banners and ribbons during these celebrations.
The Ascension Chapel with an altar in the foreground.
The Footprint of Jesus.
On the floor of this chapel, inside a frame is a stone slab with what many people believe is an impression of the right foot of Jesus, the last point on earth that was touched by Him before He rose into the air.
The “footprint of Jesus”.
In the year 680 AD the French monk Arculf recalled seeing two footprints, both the right and left feet of Jesus. But the left footprint was later removed during the middle ages, and today it is just behind the main pulpit in the Al Aqsa Mosque at the Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem. As I said, Muslims believe in the ascension of Jesus too, so that’s why the left footprint is holy for them as well.
How did these impressions get here? It has been assumed that one of Jesus’ disciples carved these two footprints into this rock, after recalling the spot where Christ was standing at the moment that He was taken into Heaven. While these might not have been actual impressions of Jesus’ feet, we can be certain that someone believed that He stood on this very spot when He was caught up in the air.
From the Biblical text.
Two angels appear at the site of the Chapel of the Ascension.
What does the Bible say about what happened here? From Acts 1:9-11 we read
And it came about that while He was blessing them, He was lifted up. He parted from them while they were looking on, and a cloud carried (and) received Him up into Heaven out of their sight. And as they were gazing intently into the sky while He was departing, behold two men in white clothing stood beside them. And they also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus Who has been taken up from you into Heaven will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into Heaven.”
In the last chapter of the Bible, in the Book of Revelation, Jesus, Himself, makes a similar promise to those who love Him with all their heart. He said, “Yes, I am coming soon” (Rev 22:20).