Editor’s note • The Salt Lake Tribune’s senior religion writer, Peggy Fletcher Stack, is on assignment in the Middle East. Besides her deeper reporting, she is sharing shorter daily dispatches. This one is from sacred Holy Week sites in Jerusalem.
Jerusalem • Forget da Vinci.
On Thursday, Christians flocked to see, experience and celebrate the upper room located above King David’s tomb on Mount Zion outside the Old City in memory of Jesus’ Last Supper.
The New Testament says Christ washed his disciples’ feet, broke bread and drank wine with them, saying that those elements were symbols of his body and blood, and then declared that one of the apostles would betray him.
Tradition also describes the room as where devastated disciples heard the news that the Savior was resurrected and where they continued to meet on the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit descended on them.
It is considered one of the holiest Christian sites but looks nothing like the famed European painting.
The Cenacle (which means “the dining room”) was built by the crusaders 800 years ago, according to Jerusalem’s travel site, as part of a big church, “which was erected upon the remnants of an ancient Byzantine Church. The building was renovated into its current form in 1335 by the Franciscan monks, the custodians of the Holy Land.”
The room is a little rectangular but not dramatically, as if it could hold an extensive table (I have always wondered why, in Leonardo da Vinci’s painting, everyone was sitting on one side. In fact, biblical scholars say the men may have eaten on a rug on the floor and could even have been reclining). There are six arched ceilings with an altar on one side of the open space.
After the supper, the Bible says, Jesus retired to the Garden of Gethsemane at the foot of the Mount of Olives to pray. He knelt beside a rock, a piece of which now rests in the Basilica of the Agony, built in 1924 on the traditional site.
Christians believe the man who would be their Savior suffered intense pain during that prayer, asking God to “let this cup pass from me” but ultimately submitted to what was coming. “Thy will be done.”
It was there he was identified by Judas, arrested and taken before Jewish authorities.
On this night, Christians gathered in the basilica to read the biblical passages about these tortured events, and then retraced the path of his arrest and trial, singing hymns, while holding torches and candles aloft creating a river of lights.
Unlike the joyous procession of Palm Sunday, this was somber and subdued.
As we walked back to our hotel from the Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu (or in “the cockcrows”) near midnight, Jewish families were finishing their preparations for Passover and Muslim devotees were still enjoying their after-fast Ramadan partying.
The convergence of these holidays filled me with a feeling of connection.