March 7, 2010

Monastery of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem

The present Sunday, the Third Sunday of Great Lent, the Orthodox Church invites us to focus on the Holy Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, a source of blessing and support for this period of fasting and of our entire life in general.

Below is some information on the historical Monastery of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem, a monastery inextricably related to the whole history of Orthodoxy's most precious emblem.

The Monastery of the Cross is a solitary Roman monastery located outside the Old City of Jerusalem. Its name is based on the tradition that it stands where the tree grew that was used to make Christ's cross.

The Holy Tree, according to the tradition of the Monastery, was based on a triplet seeding (olive + cypress + cedar) that Abraham gave to Lot. Lot planted the tree at this site and watered it with waters he fetched from the Jordan river. The tree was later used to create the Holy Cross on which Jesus was crucified. A room inside the Monastery marks the site of the tree. (Pictures below commemorate this event).

There was a Christian church on this site in the 5th century said to have been built by Saint Helen, the mother of Emperor Constantine I, but it was destroyed by the Persians in 614 AD (you can see part of the original mosaic floor next to the main altar in the present church).

The Monastery of the Cross' high, fortress-like walls reflect its precarious position outside the city walls.

By the 14th century, the monastery had become the center of the Georgian community in Jerusalem. By 1685, however, the monastery had been taken over by the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate.

The simple dome is one of the church's most beautiful features. Also worth seeing are the frescoes, which were repainted in the 17th century based on 13th century originals and show an unusual combination of Christian, pagan, and worldly images.

The monastery's refectory and kitchen provide a glimpse into monastic life. A small museum displays the monastery's treasures.

The monastery remains active today, but visitors are permitted to wander freely around the monastery complex.

For more pictures, see here.