The Upper Room - Cenacle

also known as the Coenaculum.

The Upper room is according to tradition, the place where Jesus and his disciples held the Passover feast- the Last supper, before he was taken away to be tried.
This is based on the account in the synoptics that states that Jesus had instructed a pair of unnamed disciples to go to the city to meet a man carrying a jar of water, who would lead them to a house, where they were to ask for the room where the teacher has a guest room.
This room is specified as being the upper room; the institution of the Eucharist during the Last Supper, Jesus’ appearance before the Apostles after His Resurrection and the adjoining hall is the Chapel of the descent of the Holy Spirit over the Apostles at Pentecost.
Despite the fact that there is a general agreement that the original building was a first-century CE synagogue, both Jews and Christians claim it as their own relying on a statement by Epiphanius (CE ca. 315- 402/3).
Writing late in the fourth century, he claimed that when the Roman emperor Hadrian (CE 76-138) visited Jerusalem (ca. 131/132) a small “Church of God” and seven synagogues existed on Mount Zion.
Christians argue that the present-day remains are those of the small Judeo-Christian synagogue, which Epiphanius called a Church of God, constructed on the site of the Upper Room by Judeo-Christian refugees returning from Pella about CE 73. Jews claim it as one of the seven synagogues of the Jews observed by Hadrian.
An earlier account by a pilgrim from Bordeaux, presumably a Judeo-Christian who visited Jerusalem in CE 333, refers to the tradition of seven synagogues on MountZion as well.
In 415 A.D. the bones of the first martyr, St. Stephen, were found in Kafar Gamaliel, at a site indicated in a vision experienced by the monk Lucien. John II the bishop of Jerusalem (served 387-419 CE.) ordered the bones to be handed over to him.
Interpreting the monk’s vision, John declared, “The carriage, you have seen [in your vision], drawn by a large ox signifies Stephen.
Sion, the first church, is the big carriage.”
The date of the transfer of St. Stephen’s bones was December 26, 415 A.D., and this became the date of the feast of St. Stephen. Two more memorial tombs were added in the tenth century, one for David and one for Solomon.
It was these two tombs, plus St. Stephen’s sarcophagus that the Crusaders found upon their arrival, as we have seen above.

The Crusaders in the 12th century built a new church, which they named St.Mary of Mt. Zion: they had a tradition that after Jesus’ resurrection, Mary had lived on this hill until her death (today remembered in the nearby Dormition Abbey).
The Franciscans purchased it in 1335 and gave it its present form.
The Crusader church incorporated today’s Upper Room.
The Room of the Last Supper lies just outside the Dormition Abbey behind the Franciscan house on Sion.
The Tomb of King David is believed to be located beneath the Upper Room.
After the Franciscan Friars’ eviction in the middle of the 16th century, both David’s tomb and the cenacle were transformed into mosques in order to hinder the Franciscans return.
A prayer niche (mihrab) was inserted in the wall indicating the direction of prayer toward Mecca.
It was exactly opposite the orientation of the niche of the first century Judeo-Christian synagogue-church, which pointed to the Holy Sepulchre.
The Arabic inscription prohibiting public prayer at the site, is still nowadays behind the book shelves.
The ceiling of the Upper Room is supported by three pillars which divide the room into three naves. With implicit reference to the Last Supper, a delicate Crusader capital (SW corner) reflects the belief that the pelican, if unable to find food for her young, will offer them flesh from her breast.

See also: The Cenacle and the tomb of David


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