The Upper Room
Learn the Secrets of the Upper Room
Location – Mount Zion
Map Coordinates - 31.771719, 35.229238
Merged Gospels stories - 247-264
This is a place where our Octagon Tour groups get to take communion, in the very spot where Jesus celebrated the Lord’s Supper.
According to tradition, this is the location where several Biblical events took place. This room is on what was a first-century hill called Mount Zion, and in Jesus’ day this area was inside the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem.
This was not actually the room where Jesus had His last supper with His apostles. It is probably the same latitude and longitude as the first upper room, but this current room is much larger, built quite differently, and it’s probably higher up than the original Upper Room.
What happened here?
First of all, as I said, it is where Jesus celebrated the Last Supper, the Passover meal, with His Apostles. It is where Jesus washed their feet. After He was resurrected, Jesus appeared to the Apostles twice in this location. Saint Peter came knocking on the door of the Upper Room after an angel had released him from prison. And after Jesus ascended into Heaven, His disciples gathered in this spot, and elected Saint Matthias to join their ranks as one of the Apostles.
This room also became the headquarters for the early Jerusalem church. Before Christianity was legalized it was here that the disciples met regularly to worship the Lord, so in a way, it was also the first house church. It is also believed by some that the Upper Room was a Jewish synagogue during the time of Jesus. And we know that Mary, the mother of Jesus, lived in a home very close by, which is now called the Church of the Dormition.
Jesus washed the Apostles’ feet in this room.
The earliest reference to this room outside the Bible seems to be in the writings of Epiphanius of Salamis (On weights and measures 14-15) who, in the fourth century, referred to a church that he called the little church of God. Later in that same century it was also called the Church of the Apostles.
In Jesus’ day the Upper Room was an upstairs dining room owned by a rich woman named Mary, a lady who had servants working for her. She also had a son named John Mark, who later wrote the Gospel of Mark, and who joined Paul on his first missionary journey.
The Upper Room goes by a couple of different names. Some call it the Cenacle. Some call it the Coenaculum. Both of these words mean dining room.
Where is the original Upper Room right now? It is probably below us, and it was much smaller than the room you see here. How do we know? In the first century it would have been virtually impossible to support a second-floor room of this size. And there was really no reason for a homeowner to have a room this large.
Jesus celebrated the Passover Supper with His Apostles in the Upper Room.
Some people believe that this was the place where the Apostles experienced the filling of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost (Acts 1:13, 2:1). This belief was made popular in the year 348 AD by a man called Cyril of Jerusalem. However, there are many others (including myself) who believe that this Pentecostal event actually took place on the Temple Mount, in a large colonnade called the Royal Stoa.
History of the Site.
30 AD. Jesus celebrates the Passover in the Cenacle with His Apostles, commonly called the Last Supper. In this same year He appeared to His Apostles in His resurrected body. As I mentioned, the Cenacle was below the room currently celebrated as the Upper Room.
The Christians who worshiped here called it a synagogue, and later a church. Hence, it is probably accurate to say that it was the first church.
70 AD. The Cenacle was destroyed in the Roman siege of Jerusalem. The Christians in Jerusalem escaped to Pella in the Transjordan countryside, under the leadership of Saint Simeon, son of Cleopas (the brother of Joseph of Nazareth [Eusebius, Church History 3.11, 32:4ff.]), who was the second Bishop of Jerusalem, and probably the second person in the Biblical story of Emmaus (The Merged GospelsTM, story 293) (Saint Simeon was the cousin of Jesus through Joseph).
c. 73 AD. Under the leadership of Saint Simeon, The Christians returned from Pella, and rebuilt the Judeo/Christian Church of the Apostles at the same location as the original Cenacle (According to Euthychius, 896-940 AD).
130 AD. The Roman emperor Hadrian visited Jerusalem, and this church was, at that time, called “the little church of God” (according to the late 4th century Bishop Epiphanius).
333 AD. The Anonymous Pilgrim of Bordeaux arrived in Jerusalem, and spoke of the Church of the Apostles as a synagogue on Mount Zion, and that it had a wall built around it. (The Bordeaux Pilgrim, Itinerarium Burdigalense.) This is probably because the Church of the Apostles was still a Messianic Jewish community of Christians, whereas the rest of Jerusalem was dominated by Greek Byzantine Christians.
Mary Magdalene rushes into the Upper Room to tell Christ’s disciples that He is alive.
348 AD. Cyril of Jerusalem claimed that the place where the Holy Spirit fell on the Apostles was “in the Upper Church of the Apostles” (Baldi, Enchiridion, no. 730).
379 AD. The Roman emperor, Theodosius I built a separate church nearby the Cenacle in the shape of an octagon. The mosaic in the apse of the Pudentiana church in Rome, which was made about 400 A.D. shows two buildings on Mount Zion next to each other. Similarly, 6th-century artistic representations, such as the mosaics found in Madaba, Jordan (the "Madaba Map") and the Church of Saint Mary Major in Rome depict a smaller structure to the south of the basilica.
Apparently, it was at this point that the Byzantines took over the Church of the Apostles from the Jewish Christians. This new church was called the Church of Zion.
c. 394 AD. The column of flagellation, which had been lying since the first century in ruins at the house of Caiaphas was brought into the portico of the Church of Zion (Source: Letter CVIII to Eustochium, 9, circa 390 AD).
Another report indicates that this pillar was placed in the very center of the Church (Source: De Locus Sanctus, The Pilgrimage of Arculfus, 670 A.D.)].
Egeria visited the church in this year, and implies that there was a double sanctuary, one at the Church of Zion, and one at the old Church of the Apostles. (Source: The Pilgrimage of Egeria, 66:7[b]).
415 AD. The bones of Saint Stephen, the first martyr, are brought into the old Church of the Apostles, only to be dispersed in 439 AD. The Church of the Apostles is called “The Mother of All Churches”.
614 AD. The Persian army raided Jerusalem, destroying many churches including burning the Church of Zion, and killing almost 67,000 Christians in this city. However, this church was quickly rebuilt sometime around 630 AD by the Patriarch of Jerusalem, whose name was Modestus. Modestus actually made many repairs to churches after the Persian attack, including repairs to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.
1009 AD. Then in the year 1009 AD, this church was destroyed again by the insane Caliph from Egypt, Al Hakim.
12th Century. The Crusaders built a new church on the site of the Church of Zion, and called it Saint Mary of Mount Zion, in memory of the tradition that Mary had lived on Mount Zion after the resurrection of her Son, and had also died there. The Crusaders also built a second floor onto the walls of the Church of the Apostles. This is the room that exists today, called the Cenacle.
1187 AD. The Crusaders were forced to leave the Holy Land, and they left the Cenacle in the hands of the Syrian Christians.
1219 AD. The entire Mount Zion complex was destroyed by one of the Ayubic sultans of Damascus.
1335 – 37 AD. The Franciscans purchased the site at Mount Zion, and made several embellishments.
1552 AD. The Franciscans were forced to abandon Mount Zion completely by the Muslim landlords, who broke the flagellation column apart. Some parts of the column were lost, but most of it was salvaged by the man who, at that time, was in charge of the Catholic church in the Holy Land - Father Custos Boniface of Ragusa.
29 years after the column was broken, in the year 1553 A.D. Father Boniface brought a piece of the column to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, where it has been ever since.
1948 AD. Mount Zion became part of Israel. The Israeli Department of Religious Affairs (or Ministry of the Interior) now administers both floors of this building. Christians were finally allowed to enter the site after four centuries.
The pelican capital on a pillar inside the Upper Room.
One of the things that the Crusaders added to this room was a pillar, where the capital at the top shows two young pelicans feeding on the blood from their mother’s breast. This reflects the ancient belief (as recorded by Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder (23-79 A.D.) in his Natural History, and repeated in the middle ages, that there was a belief that if a young pelican was starving, its mother would peck at her breast, and feed her young with her own blood, thus sacrificing her own life. While this belief was not true, this pelican metaphor became a symbol that the church used to explain what Jesus Himself did, when He shed His blood for us, so that all of us could have eternal life.
The Arabic Data Stone.
This is written in Arabic, and it is a slur against Christians, whom it calls polytheists (because they believe in the Trinity). More than half of this text praises and blesses Suleman the Magnificent, the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire from 1520 until he died in 1566. Here is the full translation:
In the name of Allah, the Compassionate the merciful. The order to purify and to cleanse of polytheists from this place and to make (here) a mosque so that the name of Allah is celebrated in it, is by the Sultan of mankind, the defender of Islamic faith, the servant of the sacred house (at Mecca), the establisher of Justice and security, the Sultan, son of Sultan, the Sultan Suleman son of the House of Osman, may Allah support him throughout his life, by the hand of our Master leader of our Sheikhs, al Shams Muhammed al-‘ajami the preacher, may Allah carry out blessings through his hands and have mercy upon his parents, on the day of Thursday at the beginning of the month of Rebiulevvel in the year 930 and praise to be Allah alone.
In the year 1524 AD the Muslim Ottoman empire converted this room into a mosque. This is evidenced by the fact that they built a mihrab in the southern wall of this room. A mihrab is a prayer niche that always faces Mecca in Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Muhammad, and this mihrab tells Muslim worshippers in which direction they should pray.
The Stained-Glass Windows.
The stained-glass windows in this room still have Arabic inscriptions. Translated, they say, “Judge between the people in truth and do not follow your own desire.”
The Tree Sculpture.
This bronze sculpture of an olive tree was donated to the Upper Room by Pope John Paul the second. It symbolizes peace between the three major religions in Jerusalem – Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Intertwined on this tree are both grape vines and wheat shafts, symbolizing the wine and the bread that were served by Jesus to His disciples during the Last Supper.
This plaque on the wall is called the Basmala. It is written in Arabic, and it says, “In the name of Allah, the most gracious, the most merciful.”