Upper Room

Upper Room

Cenacle (from Latin cēnāculum “dining room”, later spelt coenaculum), also known as the “Upper Room” (from Koine Greek anagaion and hyperōion, both meaning “upper room”) was the first Christian church.[1] It is a room in the David’s Tomb Compound in Jerusalem, and was traditionally held to be the site of the Last Supper.

The language in Acts suggests that the apostles used the room as a temporary residence (Koine Greek: οὗ ἦσαν καταμένοντες, hou ēsan katamenontes),[2] although the Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary disagrees, preferring to see the room as a place where they were “not lodged, but had for their place of rendezvous”.[3]

In Christian tradition, the room was not only the site of the Last Supper (i.e. the Cenacle), but the room in which the Holy Spirit alighted upon the eleven apostles after Easter. It is sometimes thought to be the place where the apostles stayed in Jerusalem.


The early history of the Cenacle site is uncertain; scholars have attempted to establish a chronology based on archaeological, artistic and historical sources.

Based on the survey conducted by Jacob Pinkerfeld in 1948, Pixner believes that the original building was a synagogue later probably used by Jewish Christians. However, no architectural features associated with early synagogues such as columns, benches, or other accoutrements are present in the lower Tomb chamber. According to Epiphanius, bishop of Salamis writing towards the end of the 4th century, the building and its environs were spared during the destruction of Jerusalem under Titus (AD 70). Pixner suggests that the Mount Zion site was destroyed and rebuilt in the later first century. The lowest courses of ashlars (building stones) along the north, east and south walls are attributed by Pinkerfeld to the late Roman period (135-325 AD). Pixner believes that they are Herodian-period ashlars, dating the construction of the building to an earlier period. Many scholars, however, date the walls’ earliest construction to the Byzantine period and identify the Cenacle as the remains of a no-longer-extant Hagia Sion (“Holy Zion”) basilica. The Roman emperor Theodosius I constructed the five-aisled Hagia Sion basilica likely between 379 and 381 AD.

Sixth-century artistic representations, such as the mosaics found in Madaba, Jordan (the “Madaba Map”) and the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome, depict a smaller structure to the south of basilica. Some have identified this smaller structure as the Cenacle thus demonstrating its independence from, and possible prior existence to, the basilica.[25] The basilica (and the Cenacle?) was later damaged by Persian invaders in 614 AD but restored by the patriarch Modestus. In AD 1009 the church was destroyed by the Muslim caliph Al-Hakim. Shortly afterward it was replaced by the Crusaders with a cathedral named for Saint Mary featuring a central nave and two side aisles. The Cenacle was either repaired or enclosed by the Crusader church, occupying a portion of two aisles on the right (southern) side of the altar.[26] The Crusader cathedral was destroyed soon afterward, in the late 12th or early 13th century, but the Cenacle remained. (Today, part of the site upon which the Byzantine and Crusader churches stood is believed to be occupied by the smaller Church of the Dormition and its associated Abbey.)

Syrian Christians maintained the Cenacle until the 1330s when it passed into the custody of the Franciscan Order of Friars who managed the structure until 1524. At that time Ottoman authorities took possession of the Cenacle converting it into a mosque. The Franciscans were evicted from their surrounding buildings in 1550. Architectural evidence remains of the period of Muslim control including the elaborate mihrab in the Last Supper room, the Arabic inscriptions on its walls, the qubba over the stairwell, and the minaret and dome atop the roof. Christians were not allowed to return until the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. The historical building is currently managed by the State of Israel Ministry of the Interior.

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