On Mount Zion, outside the old city walls, to the left of Zion Gate, you will notice a big octagonal church ascending from between the walls; Dormition Abbey. This church is a landmark of the city, and is the site where the Virgin Mary is said to have died, or fell into ‘eternal sleep’. Its Latin name is “Dormitio Mariae” (Sleep of St. Mary). The original building was a Franciscan chapel erected on the spot during the fourteenth century. The German Emperor Wilhelm II traveled through the Middle East in 1898 and the Turkish Sultan Abdul Hamid gave him a plot of land, that was handed over to the “German Association for the Holy Land” “for the benefit of German Catholics”. This was the basis for the erection of a Benedictine monastery, initially called “Dormitio Mariae”. The first monks arrived on Mount Zion in 1906. The church was dedicated on 10th April 1910. It was noticeably damaged during the battles for the city in 1948 and 1967.
The church is very noticeable among the Jerusalem landscape. You’ll notice a large round shaped top and adjacent to it a tower. From a distant view it resembles the German Emperor Wilhelm the second, wearing the traditional Prussian helmet.
Inside the church you’ll notice beautiful mosaics covering the prayer hall. These mosaics describe events in the lives of Jesus, Mary and the saints. Around the hall are six niches, each one is dedicated to a saint and each one was designed by a different German artist. On the floor the colorful tiles represent different themes. The largest and most dominant ring is the zodiac and in the center three rings intertwined represent the trinity. The outer circle of the mosaic floor has depictions of the Prophets and the twelve Apostles.
From the prayer hall, there is a staircase leading down to the crypt. The crypt, a round room under the church and in its center, lies a life size statue of the sleeping Mary, made of cherrywood and ivory. The dome above is noticeable for its glorious mosaic zodiac. Decorating the Mosaic ceiling is a picture of Jesus and around him portraits of some of the most famous women in biblical history, Ruth, Esther, Yael, Eve, Miriam (Moses’ sister). Surrounding the sleeping Mary are several small chapels, three of them dedicated to Austria, Hungary and the Ivory Coast who donated funds to the church.