Dormition Abbey: “I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “This very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.” (Matthew 26:34)
The Dormition Abbey is a huge German Benedictine Abbey on the top of Mount Zion outside the old city walls and 100 meters from the Zion Gate. The Dormition Abbey commemorates the life of Mary, the mother of Jesus. The name means “Eternal Sleep” and is the traditional place of Mary’s death. The Dormition Abbey is an exquisite complex of cream brick and round roofs.
An impressive bell tower stands tall amid the abbey. On top of the bell tower is a rooster, recounting the story of Peter’s denial of Jesus three times before the cock crowed thrice, found in Mark 14. The story in Mark tells how Jesus has already been captured. When asked if Peter knows Jesus, Peter denies even knowing the Jesus he just spent years with. Peter is quite guilt stricken, especially in light that Jesus had warned him of the impending betrayal before it even happened.
A painted mosaic depicting Mary and baby Jesus adorns the domed interior of this massive Basilica. The infant Jesus holds a book that says, “I am the Light of the world.” Underneath this gorgeous piece of artwork are paintings of 8 prophets and the inscriptions of more Bible verses. The floor of the Dormition Abbey is decorated with the signs of the Zodiac, the names of prophets and more Bible verses.
There are six small chapels along the sides of this large central room. The chapels are walled with mosaics. One is dedicated to Saint Benedict, the founder of the Benedictine Order.
Two spiral staircases lead from the church to the crypt below. The crypt is a round room with an ivory and cherry word sculpture of Mary’s death bed. Above this sculpture on the ceiling are paintings of Jesus and other Biblical characters. Around the crypt walls are smaller chapels dedicated to different countries.
Dormition Abbey sits in what used to be the walled “upper city” during the Hellenistic and Roman eras. Most of Jesus’ last days were spent in this area. A few hundred years later in the Byzantine era, Christians began building churches to remember the life of Jesus.
The area remained in ruins from the 7th to the 12th century after the Arab conquest. The Crusaders returned to rebuild much of that area around Mount Zion in the 12th century. After the fall of the Crusaders kingdom, the church remained in ruins until the 19th century.
Dormition Abbey History
The Ottomans gave the land where the Dormition Abbey now stands to the Germans as a gift. The Dormition Abbey was dedicated in 1898 when the German Kaiser Wilhelm II visited the Holy Lands. In 1906 there was a grand cornerstone laying ceremony. The Dormition Abbey was designed by Heinrich Renard.
Dormition Abbey was damaged by shell attack during the battles for Jerusalem in 1948. For twenty years the bell tower was used as a watch tower to guard the Jordan border. It was reincluded into the old city of Jerusalem after the 6 Day War. It is now open to the public.