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Russian Convent and Church of the Ascension - Mount of Olives

On the Mount of Olives, according to the Christian tradition, Christ ascended to heaven, the Church of the Ascension was built by the Russian Church at the end of the 19th century.

The Church of the Ascension and the Russian Candle Tower - the tallest in Jerusalem


Church of the Ascension

In the heart of the complex was erected the 'Russian Candle' - the tallest tower in Jerusalem, within the village of A-Tor, this is one of the hidden complexes in Jerusalem - this is an isolated and fascinating Russian complex, which looks as if it was copied from Russia.

When you enter the iron door, a window opens to another world - a classic Russian village, with chickens running around in a spacious and incredibly clean yard, beds planted with vegetables, ancient pine and olive trees, and flowers in every corner. About 45 nuns live here in wooden pavilions, whose windows are decorated with embroidered curtains and well-kept planters.

Inside the complex, which covers about 55 dunams - and is surrounded by a wall that is one and a half kilometers long - there is a monastery and a church, established in 1886. The main attraction is the narrow bell tower, which is divided into three levels, and at the end is a pointed tower with a cross above it - rising to a height of 66 meters. This is the tallest tower of Jerusalem, whose height is highlighted because it is built on the uplift of the Mount of Olives ridge. The ridge is characterized by two other towers - Augusta Victoria and the Hebrew University at Mount Scopus. The tip of the cross on top is at a height of 880 meters above sea level.

This tall and pointed tower, with 214 winding and spiral steps, is called "The Russian Candle". The tower is 20 meters higher than the YMCA tower - from which there is also a view that allows a view of the four wings of the city, but from the Ascension tower, there is a more spectacular and long-range panoramic view - also towards the Dead Sea and up to the Jordan Valley and the mountains of Moab.

The Church of the Ascension and the "Russian Candle" tower were built between 1870-1886, to preserve the memory of Jesus' ascension to heaven. The church belongs to the "White Russians". They did not recognize the "Red" Church, which arose in Moscow after 1917 (the Patriarchal Church).

In 2007, after a long political struggle, the churches were united - but they preserved the hierarchical mechanisms and the ownership of their properties, even though both are currently subordinate to the Patriarch of Moscow.

The Russian ambassador in Kushta sent the dynamic, gifted, and charismatic monk Antonio Kapustin to Israel to strengthen Russian influence in Israel, and in Jerusalem particularly. This led to the creation of the significant Russian complex on the Mount of Olives.

Kapustin was the one who also built the "Moscow" complex in Ein Karem and understood how important the acquisition of most of the Mount of Olives was for Christianity, and he did it despite all the difficulties piled up by the Turkish bureaucracy. According to Christian belief, it was from this mountain that Jesus entered Jerusalem in the last week of his life, and from here he ascended to heaven, forty days after his resurrection.

Kapustin saw the peak of his achievements in building the Ascension Church and the "closest to heaven" tower. Upon his request, he was buried in the church complex after his death (1894).

Seven bells hang in the dome of the 'Russian Candle' tower, the largest of which is on the first floor and weighs 6 tons. It was sent by steamship from Russia to Jaffa, and due to its heavy weight, it wasn't possible to bring it up to Jerusalem with the help of horses. In an operation organized by Kapustin - the bell was placed on a cart, which was pulled by ropes for seven days by over a hundred Russian pilgrims, men, and women, who changed every few minutes to rest. They performed this hard work while constantly singing and were encouraged and applauded by the residents of Jerusalem. The bell is engraved with the year 1886, decorated with scenes from the New Testament.

The Church of the Ascension is impressive in its simplicity and beauty, and its blue ceiling dome, which depicts Jesus ascending to heaven, stands out. In a nearby building, there is a chapel dedicated to John the Baptist. According to tradition, his head was buried there (he was executed by the son of Herod the Great - Herod Antipas, in the Makhvar fortress on the eastern side of the Dead Sea). Christian tradition says that one of John the Baptist's disciples took his head in an urn and buried it on the Mount of Olives.

There are also antiquities in the yard. A coffin was also discovered with the bones of King Uzziah of Judah, who died of leprosy. Two Armenian floors with paintings of birds, fish, and cows - left over from the Armenian church built on the site during the Byzantine period - were also uncovered. In a nearby burial cave, inside a dungeon, there are graves with Armenian names. In the yard, there is also a large rounded stone, surrounded by a grate, on which, according to tradition, Mary stood, during the ascension of her son Jesus.

In 1927, a strong earthquake hit Jerusalem. The peak of its power was felt on the Mount of Olives, and also on the Mount of Scopus, where the magnificent building of Augusta Victoria was damaged. Damage was also caused to the Russian Ascension Church, and witnesses said that the bell tower swung like a pendulum, but survived. In 1906, the monastery was inaugurated in the Russian complex, and 15 nuns lived there at the time, gradually increasing their number to 150 in 1914. A large icon with the image of Mary, the mother of Jesus, was brought to the place by pilgrims from Russia, and ever since became the symbol of the church and is carried at the head of the religious ritual processions.

The Russian Church suffered greatly during World War I, due to Tsarist Russia's war in Germany and Turkey. The Turks expelled the entire team and used the compound for the needs of the army. With the entry of the British, the nuns returned to the church. In 1924, the church was expanded and renovated to allow prayer for all the residents of the complex. Among other things, the nuns are engaged in weaving and embroidery, picking olives, growing vegetables, and doing crafts in the iconography studio. There is a rustic dining room, a bakery, and a guest house. There are several nuns in the complex and some of them are Palestinian and Romanian.

In 1898 Binyamin Herzel visited Israel with a Zionist delegation for a meeting with the German Emperor Wilhelm II - who was then in Israel on a state visit. Herzl spent five days in Jerusalem, and among the sites recommended by the guide who accompanied him was the Ascension Tower. And so Herzl recounts in his diary: "We climbed the Russian tower, I reached the first gasostra because I was dizzy. My friends went up to the top. The view of the Judean desert and the sides of the mountains, the Jordan Valley, the Dead Sea, the mountains of Moab - and above all the sights of the eternal city of Jerusalem ".






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