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29. Dominus Flevit

Before entering Jerusalem for the Passover, Jesus sent his disciples to look for a donkey and a colt to ride upon. The Gospel of Luke adds that just before his entrance, Jesus saw the city of Jerusalem, and lamented its future destruction:

As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.” Luke 19:41-44.

The modern chapell at the Dominus Flevit site.  (C) Michael Browning.

The reaction of Jesus to this sight was surprising to those with him, but his words were true – only a few decades after his crucifixion, in 70 AD, all of Jerusalem was razed to the ground by the Romans, as a punishment for the rebellion of the Jews.

The exact location of where Jesus lamented over Jerusalem is not given, but the most likely place would be on the western slope of the Mount of Olives where one coming from the east sees Jerusalem for the first time. As one ascends toward Jerusalem from Jericho, the view of the city from the Mount of Olives is stunning. However, Roman Catholic tradition locates the place of Jesus’ lamentation about half way down from the Mount of Olives to the Kidron Valley, at a site where a Monastic complex from the Byzantine period existed.

The modern chapel, designed by Antonio Barluzzi and completed in 1955, is shaped like a tear drop, to echo the tears of Jesus at the sight of the city.

It is called Dominus Flevit, ‘The Lord wept’ in Latin. In the western wall of the chapel a large window provides an overwhelming panoramic view of the old City of Jerusalem, and especially of the Temple Mount.

Next to the entrance into the modern chapel, the remains of a Byzantine period mosaic floor can be seen. The mosaic is ornamented in the typical manner of Byzantine times, depicting various items in round medallions.

2010 Palm Sunday in Jerusalem, a celebration of Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into the city on a donkey. © Danny Herman

In the compound of Dominus Flevit 60 burial caves were recovered by the Franciscans, attesting that in the Roman period the Jews favored the Mount of Olives as a burial site. Some of the burials were in small stone coffins called ossuaries. The Franciscans argue that some of these ossuaries were used by the early followers of Jesus, the Nazareans, but this opinion is not supported with enough evidence to be considered fact.