Navigating the Christian Sites of Jerusalem
When emperor Constantine embraced Christianity in the early 300’s, his mother Helena took a pilgrimage to the Holy Land in search of relics. Based on the traditional locations of events in the life of Christ that had been established by locals and pilgrims, she erected chapels and shrines all over Jerusalem. No matter your religious belief, visiting the holy sites of Christianity is a good way to understand the centuries of pilgrimages that have so defined this city. What I’ve compiled here a list of the major Christian sites and where to locate them. May your journey bring you peace and enlightenment!
St. Anne's Church | Where the Virgin Mary was Born
April–September: Monday–Saturday 8am–noon and 2pm–6pm
October–March: Monday–Saturday 8am–noon and 2pm–5pm
Entry: 8NIS (joint entry with the Pools of Bethesda)
This church is built over the home of Joachim and Anne, the parents of the Virgin Mary. It is a fine example of Crusader architecture and boasts the best acoustics in Jerusalem. If you don’t encounter a choir to hear it for yourself, do sing a hymn! This site is located just inside Lions Gate at the beginning of the Via Dolorosa, and is a good way to begin your pilgrimage to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
Pools of Bethesda | Where Jesus Healed a Sick ManApril–September: Monday–Saturday 8am–noon and 2pm–6pm
October–March: Monday–Saturday 8am–noon and 2pm–5pm
Entry: 8NIS (joint entry with St. Anne’s Church)
Located just next to St. Anne’s Church are the pools where Jesus healed a sick man on the Sabbath.
Via Dolorosa | Christ's Path to CalvaryThis is the path that Christ walked, carrying the cross from where he was sentenced by Pontius Pilate to where he was crucified. It begins at Lions Gate on the East side of the city, winds through the souks of the Old City, and ends at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre which is built on the hill of Calvary. Each station of the cross along the way is marked by a bronze disc bearing roman numerals and usually a commemorative chapel. See our full post about the Via Dolorosa here.
It’s important to remember that the original path of Christ would be about 20 feet below the current street level, as the city has been built upon for centuries. If you take the Kotel Tunnel tour, which guides you underneath the Old City, you will have the chance to walk on the original Roman road where Christ would have walked.
Church of the Holy Sepulchre | Where Christ was CrucifiedEaster–September: Open daily 5am–9pm
October–Easter: Open daily 4am–7pm
As the holiest site in Christendom, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is jointly managed by the Catholic, Greek, Armenian, Coptic, Ethiopian and Syrian Orthodox. The Via Dolorosa ends here as the complex houses the last 6 stations of the Cross. Enter the church and you are immediately facing the Stone of Unction which commemorates Jesus’ body being prepared for burial. Ascend the steps to your right to visit the Chapel of Calvary, the location of Christ’s crucifixion. Glass covers the rock of Calvary, which pilgrims may touch through a hole under the altar. Return downstairs and follow the path to the right. A series of small chapels can be found along the path that curves around the building to the final station, where a shrine is built over Jesus’ tomb.
Though well within the city walls today, at the time of Christ’s crucifixion the site would have been just outside the city walls.
The Garden Tomb | An Alternate Site of Christ's BurialMonday–Saturday: 9am–noon and 2–5:30pm
This site is located just outside Damascus Gate (easy walking distance from the light rail) and managed by perhaps the kindest people in all of Jerusalem. It doesn’t claim to be the site of Christ’s burial but it does have a tomb from the era of Christ, in a garden setting, with a hill that could be Golgotha nearby. If the Church of the Holy Sepulchre seemed a bit opulent, this site is quite opposite with no holy structures at all, just a very peaceful garden. It seems more fitting considering the humility of Christ, like he would have liked hanging out here and tending the garden. It’s a good place for reflection after enduring the bustle of the Old City.
Monastery of the Cross | Where the Tree Grew That Was Used to Build the CrossOctober–March: Monday–Saturday 10am–4pm
April–September: Monday–Saturday 10am–5pm
This working monastery is located in a forest where the tree grew from which the true cross was constructed. The site was consecrated in the 4th century, and the current construction built by Georgian monks dates from the 11th century. It contains a beautiful 17th century chapel which retains a portion of the 6th century mosaic floor. Due to there being very few visitors, this was one of our favorite chapels in Jerusalem. Located within walking distance from the Israel Museum.
Room of the Last Supper
Open daily 8am–6pm
Located on Mount Zion, this building is quite disputed as the room that hosted the Last Supper, but is generally agreed to be where the disciples received the Holy Spirit on Pentecost.
Chapel of the Ascension | Where Christ Ascended into HeavenHours: irregular, but there is usually someone there in the mornings.
A very small and unassuming dome is built over what is traditionally thought to be the exact location of Christ’s ascension at the top of the Mount of Olives. A mosque was built around it by Saladin in 1198, as Christ is revered also by Muslims as a holy prophet. Inside the dome is the right footprint of Christ (the left was taken to Al-Aqsa Mosque).
Church of the Pater Noster | Where Christ Taught the Lord's Prayer to His DisciplesMonday–Saturday 8:30am–noon and 2:30pm–4:30pm
Also at the top of the Mount of Olives is the Church of the Pater Noster. A cave located on this site is thought to be where Christ spoke to his disciples and taught them how to pray. The Lord’s Prayer is written in more than 160 languages here, painted on tiles which line the walls of the courtyard (and which are continually being added). See our full post on the sites of the Mount of Olives here.
Dominus Flevit | Where Jesus WeptOpen daily 8am–11:45am and 2:30pm-5pm
Located about halfway down the Mount of Olives, this Roman Catholic Church is shaped like a teardrop, and commemorates where Jesus wept.
Church of All Nations and the Garden of Gethsemane | Where Jesus Was ArrestedApril–September Open daily 8am–5:50pm
October–March Open daily 8am–4:50pm
At the foot of the Mount of Olives near Mary’s tomb is the Garden of Gethsemane located just next to the Church of all Nations. This church is centered around a piece of bedrock where Jesus is believed to have prayed. The fenced off garden protects olive trees that have been scientifically dated to be more than 2,000 years old—making them some of the oldest in the world—and meaning they bear witness to Christ’s arrest.
Tomb of the Virgin MaryApril–September: Open daily 5am–noon and 2:30pm–5pm
October–March: Open daily 6am–noon and 2:30pm–5pm
Stairs descend immediately from the entrance of Mary’s Tomb down into a grotto filled with dozens of hanging oil lamps and musty incense, where the holy icon of Our Lady of Jerusalem resides. The tomb is located outside of Lions Gate and just down the hill, at the foot of the Mount of Olives.
Church of the Nativity | Where Jesus was BornSpring–Autumn: Open daily 6:30am–7:30pm
Winter: Open daily 6:30am–6:00pm
Not in Jerusalem, but nearby Bethlehem, is where you’ll find the Church of the Nativity which is built over the location of Christ’s birth. It is the oldest continually operating church in the world. Bethlehem is in the West Bank territory, and you will have to go through a checkpoint to exit.