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34. Site of the Last Supper

One of the most formative events in Christianity documented by the New Testament is the ceremonial meal Jesus and his disciples conduct on the eve of Passover in Jerusalem.

During that feast Jesus declared over the unleavened bread, “Take and eat; this is my body” (Matthew 26:26) and when drinking the wine, he said, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins”.

This is the source for one of the main sacraments in Christian liturgy – the mass.

The interior of the "Cenacle", the traditional site of the "last supper". Pointed arches supporting the roof indicate the building is really from the middle ages. In the 16th century the Ottomans added a michrab to the building (on the right), and turned it into a mosque. (C) L. Spitzer

The exact location of this event is not given. According to Matthew, it was “in the city” (Matthew 26:18) meaning Jerusalem, and according to Mark and Luke it was in a “large room, upstairs” (Mark 14:15; Luke 22:12).

Most Christians identify the place of the Last Supper on the second floor of a building on Mount Zion in the southern part of the old city of Jerusalem. The site is called ‘Cenacle’ or ‘Cenaculum’. The word is a derivative of the Latin word cena, which means ‘dinner’.

A window at the CENACLE. Designed in the 14th century the frame is in gothic style, and yet the glass of the window bears quotes in Arabic from the Quran. This was added by the Ottomans in the 16th century when they turned the cenacle into a mosque. (C) Michael Browning

Today this building is outside city walls, but there is no doubt that in the first century CE Mount Zion was within city walls, thus matching the description given by Matthew that the place of the last supper was in the city. And by being on the second floor of the building, the Cenacle site fits the descriptions of Mark and Luke – that the feast was held upstairs. But is the second floor of the building from the first century? Hardly. A visitor to the site today sees an interior design that is clearly typical to the middle ages, and is dated to the 13th -14th century. This style, known as ‘gothic’ style, is characterized by pointed or ogival arches. There is no doubt that this interior design was not in use in the first century. Furthermore, in the 16th century the Ottoman confiscated the building and turned it into a mosque. To this day a Muslim prayer niche or michrab can be seen in the southern wall of the Cenacle, as well as Arabic inscriptions.

Possible remains from the first century can only be seen outside the building. Some of the stones used in the foundation of the building are possibly from Roman times, but only an archaeological dig could provide better details on the date of the structure.

The Syrian Orthodox church in Jerusalem suggests the last supper took place at a site now known as the Monastery of Saint Mark, but in its current state it bears no remains from Roman times.

From an archaeological perspective, the location of the

Last Supper remains unknown