The Church of the Pater Noster sits at the top of the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, close to the Chapel of the Ascension. Surrounded by peaceful gardens, it’s an oasis of calm in comparison to the hustle and bustle of the Old City, over which it commands a bird’s eye view.
Like many sites in Jerusalem, the Church of the Pater Noster has impressive historic and religious significance. The most important part of the site is the cave in the picture below, which sits beneath the foundations of an old church.
According to ancient documents, it was here that Jesus gathered his disciples to teach them the Lord’s Prayer, ‘Pater Noster’. After his crucifixion, the cave was believed to be the site of a secret gathering place, where Jesus’s disciples returned to pray and remember him.
In the early 4th century, St. Helen, mother of Constantine, visited Jerusalem and identified the site, overseeing the construction of a church in this spot. This church was known as the Eleonia Basilica – ‘Eleonia’ meaning ‘of olives’ – and its sanctuary sat directly over Jesus’s cave.
The Persians destroyed the church in 614 along with many of Jerusalem’s significant buildings, and the site was abandoned until the Crusaders re-established it in 1106, restoring the foundations of St. Helen’s church. At this point the site became associated with the Lord’s Prayer, which was documented in Hebrew, Latin and Greek.
Today, it’s the site of a Carmelite convent. The original Byzantine church has been partially reconstructed and you can peek into the cave and try to imagine what happened there.
I’m not religious, so the cave was of historical interest to me rather than holding any religious significance. However, the thing I adored about the site were the colourful ceramic tiles that line the cloisters, the interior of the church, and much of the grounds, displaying the Lord’s Prayer in over 140 languages.
I’ve a bit of a thing for colourful tiles anyway. The decorations on these are striking, but I found a special beauty in the writing. Some of the languages are so beautiful they’re like mini art works, especially Burmese, which was one of my favourites.
I was lucky to have the place largely to myself, so I could wander in the cloisters, soaking up the peaceful atmosphere and admiring the beauty of language.
A path leads from the church and convent into an adjoining field, filled with olive trees and carpeted by yellow flowers. Bird song filled the air as my shoes crunched on the gravel, and the scent of lavender drifted on the breeze.
There’s a stunning view over the Mount of Olives and the Old City from the grounds, the golden bubble of the Dome of the Rock dominating the view. (I cheated slightly with this photo – I took it just outside the grounds!)
If you visit Jerusalem, I’d recommended taking some time to walk around the Mount of Olives and visit the Church of the Pater Noster. Even for the non-religious, the site commands a certain reverence. And those tiles are stunning!
Have you visited the Church of the Pater Noster and the Mount of Olives? Did the tiles inspire the same sense of wonder and beauty for you?