Cenacle – the site of the Last Supper

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Cenacle - the possible location of the Last Supper
Cenacle - the possible location of the Last Supper. / Wolfgang Lettko, Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 2.0
There is comparatively little known but immensely important place for the history of Christianity – Cenacle in Jerusalem. This is a legendary place where purported gatherings of Jesus Christ and apostles took place, here happened many events which are described in the New Testament. In some ways, this could be considered to be the very first and most important church in the world.

The place for secret gatherings

Almost all the facts of the beginnings of Christianity are on the borderline between legend and real historical events. The story about Cenacle is not an exception – we can not be certain about anything in this story. But there is a high likelihood that many of these events happened in reality. But… back to the story:

One after another the apostles learned that there is a house just outside the walls of Jerusalem where they can find shelter during their visits to the city and meet each other. They knew that they need to be careful: many people did not like the activities of the first Christians and the authorities could stop the new movement at any moment.

Mount Zion with Cenacle in the centre
Mount Zion with Cenacle in the centre. / Eman, Wikimedia Commons / public domain

The owner of this house was a lady from Cyrene, Libya named Mary who lived here with her son John Mark. Most likely she was an affluent widow, a relative to one of the apostles – Barnabas. The house had two floors and a larger room for gatherings was on the second floor. The name “cenacle” is derived from the Latin “cenaculum” – “the dining room” and could mean also “upper room”.

On the lower level of this same structure is a niche with sarcophagus – reportedly, a pseudo-tomb of King David. This is a reason why this hill was nicknamed: a City of David.

The Last Supper

Before his arrest, Jesus had to meet with his apostles for the last time. It is known from the Bible that he instructed two of them (possibly, Peter and John) to find a man who will carry a jar. This man would lead them to a house and in this house, they would find a large upper room furnished and ready for the supper. All the other apostles also were present and the Cenacle was a witness of the Last Supper – the event which has influenced the history and habits of many people for millennia.

The Last Supper: Judas Dipping his Hand in the Dish. Painting by James Tissot
The Last Supper: Judas Dipping his Hand in the Dish. / Painting by James Tissot, Wikimedia Commons / public domain

Birth of new religion

Apostles repeatedly met and hid in Cenacle after the death and resurrection of Christ. Here, after the betrayal of Judas Iscariot was elected the next apostle replacing Judas Iscariot: St. Matthias. Here the apostles saw appearances of Jesus – he appeared in another form but it was clear that Jesus now is seated at the right hand of God.

In a short time, the Cenacle turned into the first shrine of the new religion and on the seventh Sunday after the Easter (resurrection of Christ) a truly magical event happened here again: upon Apostles descended the Holy Spirit. This event is celebrated as Pentecost now.

Pentecost - descent of Holy Spirit on apostles. Duccio di Buoninsegna around 1310
Pentecost – descent of Holy Spirit on apostles. / Duccio di Buoninsegna around 1310, Wikimedia Commons / public domain

John Mark

One of the inhabitants of this house – shrine – John Mark most likely was the same Saint Mark, one of the authors of the New Testament. Mark was not a disciple of Jesus, but later, years after the crucifixion Mark became a companion at the beginning of St. Paul’s first apostolic journey. Around 49 AD Mark came to Egypt and founded the Church of Alexandria. He died in 68 AD as a martyr.

The story of the boy who lived in Cenacle and the later saint and founder of the church in Africa continued after his death. His relics were stolen from the Coptic monks in Alexandria by the Venetian merchants in 828 AD and now are in Venice, with the gorgeous Saint Mark’s Basilica built over these valuable bones.

The later history of Cenacle

One after another the apostles left Jerusalem and spread their faith and then, one after another they deceased from our world.

We know rather little about the further fate of their first shrine – Cenacle. Around the 4th century AD, this place became a destination of pilgrimage. By that time here could be a synagogue but this could be a church as well.

Since then the structure was demolished, built anew and reconstructed several times. The ground slowly rose per some 3 – 4 meters and the former second floor now would be partly underground.

The current structure was built by the Crusaders in the site where the previous church was destroyed by Caliph Al-Hakim in AD 1009. They built a church named for Saint Mary. There is a probability that the Cenacle was incorporated in this church. Cathedral was destroyed in the late 12th – early 13th century but Cenacle was left standing.

Around 1524 Ottoman authorities converted this place together with Cenacle into a mosque and Franciscans were evicted around 1550. Christians returned here officially only in 1948 when the country of Israel was established.

Now Cenacle is a popular tourist destination, available to everyone.

Entrance in Cenacle and David's Tomb
Entrance in Cenacle and David’s Tomb. / Onceinawhile, Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

Maybe Cenacle is in another place?

Almost nothing in this story is known with certainty – even if the purported location is correct.

There is one more possible place where the Last Supper could take place: in the site of the present-day St. Mark’s Syrian Orthodox Church not far from Cenacle. In this church is a stone with an early Christian inscription marking that this is the place of the Last Supper. This room definitely is older than the present-day Cenacle. Besides, this room is below the street level, thus it is definitely very old.

Special value in this church is a painting of Virgin Mary, reputedly painted by St. Luke from the real… Virgin Mary.

References

  1. Catholic Encyclopedia, Jerusalem (A.D. 71-1099) to the time of Constantine (71-312). Site last visited on 14th February 2019.

Cenacle on the map

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Cenacle 31.771800, 35.229000 Cenacle
Location, GPS coordinates:31.7718 N 35.229 E
Categories:Churches, Sites of legends
Values:Architecture, History, Unexplained
Rating:2.5 out of 5 stars (2.5 / 5)
Where is located?Asia, Israel, Jerusalem, Mount Zion, a room in the David’s Tomb Compound
Alternate names:“Upper Room”, Coenaculum
Year of construction:unknown, was in use around 30 – 40 AD

Landmarks of Israel

Landscape at the Dead Sea, Israel
Landscape at the Dead Sea / tsaiproject, Flickr / CC BY 2.0

If there is a land on the crossroads of civilizations, then Israel is one. Here from Africa to the remaining world entered different species of humans, including us. Area of Israel was located between the first civilizations in Egypt, Mesopotamia and Anatolia. Whole country is dotted with monuments of archaeology and history.

Churches

St.Peter's Basilica, Vatican
St.Peter’s Basilica / P.Landy, Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA-3.0
Throughout the history Christian churches have been the epitome of architecture and arts achievements in Western culture.

Recommended books

The Upper Room and Tomb of David: The History, Art and Archaeology of the Cenacle on Mount Zion


It has been a church, a mosque and a synagogue. Jesus is said to have dined there. James, his brother, is believed to have been interred there. King David may be buried beneath its floor. The subject of intense speculation by both scholars and the faithful, the Cenacle on Mount Zion–also known as the Upper Room of the New Testament gospels and as the Tomb of David–has remained a mystery for centuries.

Jesus and the Last Supper


Who did Jesus of Nazareth claim to be? What was his relationship to early Judaism? When and how did he expect the kingdom to come? What were his intentions? Though these key questions have been addressed in studies of the historical Jesus, Brant Pitre argues that they cannot be fully answered apart from a careful historical analysis of the Last Supper accounts. Yet these accounts, both by the Gospel writers and by Paul, are widely neglected by contemporary Jesus research.

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