Syriac Orthodox Monastery of Saint Mark, Jerusalem

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Entrance in St. Mark's Church, Jerusalem
Entrance in St. Mark's Church, Jerusalem. / momo, Flickr / CC BY 2.0
The ancient church in the Monastery of Saint Mark has many unique valuables. But it is possible, that there is much more: may be this monastery in Armenian Quarter is the place where the Last Supper took place and, in fact, the very first Christian shrine was established by the apostles.

Mysterious inscription

The Syrian Orthodox community ordered renovations of their main church in Jerusalem in 1940 and during these works, a wondrous event happened. There was discovered a fragment of the wall of the original (?) church from the 6th century and it contained a stone with an inscription “This is the house of Mary, mother of John, called Mark. Proclaimed a church by the holy apostles under the name of the Virgin Mary, mother of God, after the ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ into heaven. Renewed after the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus in the year A.D. 73.”

The inscription in Monastery of Saint Mark, Jerusalem
The Syriac inscription in Monastery of Saint Mark, Jerusalem. / Matson Photo Service, around 1940, Wikimedia Commons / public domain

Does it mean that instead of the Cenacle the Last Supper took place here, in Armenian Quarter? Cenacle is located approximately half a kilometer away, outside the city walls (as written in the Bible), on Mount Zion.

Local Syrian Orthodox community is convinced that – yes, here is the site of wondrous events and the very first Christian shrine in the world. But, it is also possible that this stone was installed in the late 15th century when the church was purchased by the Syrian Orthodox community from Copts.

Syrian Orthodox church

The history of the Syrian Orthodox church was started by apostles Saint Peter and Saint Paul in Antioch and it became an official church much later, in 518 under the guidance of Severus of Antioch.

If there is a Christian congregation which could say that they have preserved the original rites of the first Christians – it is Syrian Orthodox church. Even the language of this church often is Syriac, a dialect of Aramaic language – the language which was spoken by Jesus Christ himself.

Currently, there are some 600 followers of the Syriac Orthodox church remaining in Jerusalem. This is the only monastery of this once powerful congregation in the vicinities of the Holy City. It is true that sometimes history is rewritten, taking the “good things” away from less influential communities – could it be that Syriac Orthodox believers are right even if they are a minority?

History of the Monastery of Saint Mark

Let’s move away from the discussions about the beginnings of the story of the monastery of Saint Mark – Wondermondo will not find the truth…

The first known church building was constructed here in the 6th century although this location (…or Cenacle?) was an important pilgrimage site already by the early 4th century.

When the congregation lost other churches in the Holy City, Monastery of Saint Mark became the seat of the Archbishop of Jerusalem.

The church and monastery were rebuilt numerous times – the present church was built in the 12th century over the ruins of the earlier church and rebuilt several times since then.

Interior of St. Mark's Church, Jerusalem
Interior of St. Mark’s Church, Jerusalem. / Matson Photo Service, 1940, Picryl / public domain

Unique values

The church of the monastery has an ornate interior with an intricate, carved wooden altar, but not less interesting are somewhat mysterious steps which lead down. Below the church is believed to be the lower floor in the house of Mary – after all, the ground level around the house has risen after 2000 years. Other accounts tell that this basement is the exact place of the Last Supper.

Here is also an ancient looking baptismal font, encrusted with silver. According to local legends Mary, Jesus’ mother was baptized exactly in this vessel.

A visitor to the church would see also an ancient painting of the Virgin Mary and child. Congregation believes that exactly this is one of the world’s most sought paintings, made by apostle St. Luke who painted the real Virgin Mary standing in front of him. Churchgoers have witnessed unusual events around the painting. Nevertheless, there are many more paintings around the world claiming exactly this same fact.

The ancient monastery is storing other relics, such as a piece of Holy Cross, relics of several saints. But the most valuable treasure is the library of the monastery. Here have been collected extremely valuable manuscripts which were written by notable people, such as Cyril of Alexandria, Patriarch of Alexandria (c. 376 – 444), Severus of Antioch, Patriarch of Antioch (c. 459 – 538), Quriaqos of Tagrit, Patriarch of Antioch (793 – 817) and many others.

References

  1. Thomas C. Oden. The African Memory of Mark: Reassessing Early Church Tradition. 2011. ISBN-10: 083083933X.

Syriac Orthodox Monastery of Saint Mark, Jerusalem on the map

Location, GPS coordinates:31.7759 N 35.2305 E
Categories:Christian monasteries, Churches, Sites of legends
Values:Architecture, History, Unexplained
Rating:3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)
Where is located?Asia, Palestine, Jerusalem, north-eastern corner of the Armenian Quarter, on Ararat Street
Alternate names:Convent of Saint Mark
Founded:unknown, might be around 30 AD by Jesus and apostles
Year of construction:unknown, 6th century AD, 1009, 1718, 1791, 1833, 1858, 1940
Branch of Christianity:Syriac Orthodox

Landmarks of Palestine

Colonnade in Samaria
Colonnade in Samaria / Snapshot of the Past, Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0
Palestinian territories (or better simply – Palestine) has very special landmarks. This land has experienced the birth of Judaism and Christian religions and plays very important role also for Muslims. Billions of people see this land as the place of divine presence, with many sites linked to events of extremely high importance for believers and historicians.

Christian monasteries

Rousanou Monastery, Meteora (Greece) - one of most impressive Christian monasteries
Rousanou Monastery, Meteora – one of most impressive Christian monasteries / Takeaway, Wikimedia Commons CC-BY-SA-3.0

Christian monasteries have proven to be a very significant element in history, influencing politics, science, architecture and art. Often monasteries themselves serve as collectories of written works, art and crafts.

Recommended books

Catalogue of the Syriac Manuscripts in St. Mark’s Monastery


This book is a reproduction of Philoxenos Dolabani’s handwritten catalogue of the Syriac, Karshuni, and Arabic manuscripts located in St. Mark’s Syrian Orthodox Monastery in Jerusalem, one of the most important Christian manuscript collections in the Middle East. Dolabani was one of the greatest scholars of Syriac of the twentieth century and this manuscript is an important resource for all interested in Syriac and Christian Arabic.

Broken Bread: An Ancient Look at the First Last Supper


In fact, it looked nothing like Leonardo Da Vinci’s famous painting. But when we understand ancient mealtime customs and traditions—why Jesus and His disciples did the things they did—the events of that night paint a very different picture…

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