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monastery of the cross

The Greek-Orthodox monastery of the Cross nestles in the quaint Valley of the Cross in Western Jerusalem. It is not far from the Israel Museum and the Israeli Parlaiment building (the Knesset). By local tradition it is where the timber for Jesus’ cross came from.

History of the Monastery of the Cross

According to local tradition, in the early fourth century AD, Queen Helena identified here the burial place of Adam’s head. Moreover, it is also where the tree used for Jesus’ cross later grew. This led to the foundation of the first church during the Byzantine period. In the 11th century CE, several decades before the Crusaders’ conquest of the Holy Land, Georgian Christians developed the site into a monastery. One of its inhabitants was the famed Georgian poet – Shota Rustaveli.

Following the Ottoman conquest of the Holy Land, the monastery went into heavy debt as their accountant escaped with the monastery’s treasury. He was later assassinated, but the money was never recovered. As a result, in 1685, the Georgian church sold the monastery to the Greek-Orthodox church. The Greeks enlarged the complex and replaced many of the Georgian inscriptions in the wall paintings (frescos) with Greek ones.

The late archaeologist Dr. Vassilios Tsaferis was the monk in charge of the monastery between 1958 to 1964.

Vassilios Tsaferis – The Monk Who Became an Archaeologist

vasilios tzaferis

Vasilios Tsaferis on the roof top of the Monastery of the Cross, 2014

Vasilios Tsaferis was born in Samos in 1936 to a poor family. At the age of 14 his family sent him to Jerusalem to become a monk. He was placed in the Monastery of the Cross, but after a while, he did not settle with this lifestyle. He signed up to archaeology studies at the Hebrew University, and eventually left the monastery and got married. Obtaining a PhD, Vasilios conducted several excavations on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), and in 1991 became the head of excavations and surveys in the IAA, a position he held for ten years.

Vasilios led several important excavations throughout the country, but his most famous find was a burial cave in Jerusalem containing a metal nail piercing the human heel bone. This was the first archaeological evidence ever found to crucifixion in Roman times.

Touring the Monastery of the Cross

Four monkes of the Greek Orthodox church of maintain the monsatery, and welcome visitors from Monday to Saturday. A modest dress code is required.

A tour of the Monastery of the Cross can be combined with a guided day tour of Jerusalem.

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