The Church of the Ascension
The church stands on one of the highest points in Jerusalem, 850 m above sea level and almost 1300 m above the Dead Sea. It is built in Wilhelminian-Byzantine style. A massive second wall protects the entire façade from strong winds and rain. The old main building next to the church now houses the Augusta Victoria Hospital. The pilgrim and meeting centre, together with Café Auguste, is located opposite the church. The German Protestant Institute for Archaeology (DEIAHL) lies to the east of the area and overlooks the Jordan valley. Augusta Victoria Hospital. Gegenüber der Kirche ist das Pilger- und Begegnungszentrummit dem Café Auguste. Im Osten des Areals liegt mit Blick zum Jordantal das Deutsche Evangelische Institut für Altertumswissenschaften des Heiligen Landes (DEIAHL).
The highlights of the church's artistic decorations are the ceiling frescoes and the extremely valuable mosaics in the apse and lunettes of the choir and galleries.
The mosaics were created by the same artists (H. Schaper and E. Pfannschmift, executed by the workshop Puhl und Wagner, Berlin) who designed the mosaics in the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church in Berlin. As requested by Kaiserin Auguste Victoria, the apse mosaic shows Christ ascending to heaven on a mandorla of clouds (as described in the Acts of the Apostles 1:1-11). The lunette mosaics in the choir show the worship of the Magi and the crucifixion of Jesus, i.e. the beginning and end of Jesus’ earthly life. The lunette mosaics in the galleries, which face the choir, show “Jesus visiting Mary and Martha in Bethany” (Luke 10:38-42) and “Jesus prophesying the destruction of Jerusalem to his disciples on the Mount of Olives” (Luke 21:5 ff.). The lower part of the choir is decorated with the crests of members of the Kaiser's family.
Ceiling fresco “Christ Pantocrator”
The centre of the church's ceiling decorations shows the resurrected Christ as ruler of the world, in his hand the “Alpha” and “Omega”, surrounded by the symbols of the four Evangelists, the archangels and the twelve Apostles.
Ceiling frescos in the side aisles
The ceiling frescos in the side aisles portray King Solomon and two prophets on the left and the trinity of king (David), priest (Melchizedek) and prophet (Isaiah) on the right.
Fresco over the choir
The fresco over the choir depicts the medieval “Urbis Sancta Jerusalem” (Holy City of Jerusalem) surrounded by four kings from the era of the Crusades.
Frescoes on the ceiling of the organ galleries
The paintings on the ceiling of the organ galleries depict the benefactors Kaiser Wilhelm II and Kaiserin Auguste Victoria wearing medieval clothing. The link with the Crusaders is a visual expression of the idea of turning Jerusalem into a Christian city, which persisted right up until the early 20th century.
The stonemasonry is particularly interesting because of its richness of form and the precise attention to detail of the craftsmanship. It was created by local stonemasons. Together with the floor with its Byzantine patterns, the overall impression is one of perfect harmony, emphasised still further by the light that floods in warm colours through the gold glass and heraldic arms in the windows.
The tower of the Church of the Ascension is the highest lookout point in Jerusalem. From the top, you can enjoy breathtaking views over Jerusalem’s Old and New Cities and the Judaean Desert. You can see as far as the Dead Sea and the mountains of Jordan.
On clear days, you can even see Amman, the capital of Jordan.
The bells in the church tower, which is more than 50 m high, ring the notes of G, B, D and E and harmonise with the bells of the Dormition Abbey and the Church of the Redeemer in the Old City.
In 1909, the Franz Schilling company in Apolda – at that time one of central Europe’s leading bell foundries – cast three bells (dated 1910) for the foundation that had been established and named after Kaiser Wilhelm and Kaiserin Auguste Victoria on the Mount of Olives. However, before they were delivered, the decision was made to add a large bell as the base.
Bell I: Herrenmeister (Grand Master) | Strike note g° | Weight 6120 kg.
Bell II: Deutscher Kaiser (German Emperor) | Strike note b° | Weight 2730 kg.
Bell III: Kaiserin (Empress) | Strike note d | Weight 1630 kg.
Bell IV: Friede (Peace) | Strike note e | Weight 1072 kg.
The festival hall of the Kaiserin Auguste Victoria Foundation is located behind the galleries of the Church of the Ascension.
Originally designed as a reception hall, the magnificent room served as the hospital's emergency operating theatre for some time. It was not possible to renovate and restore the hall until 2009-2010. Now it is once again used for receptions, lectures, music and exhibitions.
The Church of the Ascension houses a number of important paintings.
The painting “Christ enters Jerusalem”, which dates back to 1896, is the work of Orientalist painter Felix Possart (b. 7 March 1837 in Berlin, d. 24 February 1928, also in Berlin). „Einzug Christi in Jerusalem“.
Felix Possart studied ancient Moorish life and costume in Morocco in 1891 and went to Palestine in 1899.
Otto Theodor Gustav Lingner (b. 1856 in Kolberg, known to have been in Berlin until 1930), inventor of the colour that bears his name, studied at the Berlin Academy from 1877 to 1881. From 1883 to 1887, he worked on the decorative paintings created by A. Fitgers (1840-1909) in Bremen and Hamburg and was based in Berlin from 1887. He worked as a portrait artist and genre painter.
The Holy Night
For a long time, hardly any attention was paid to a painting which hung in the eastern gallery of the Church of the Ascension and showed the Virgin Mary and her child surrounded by shepherds and farm animals. The painting is called Die heilige Nacht (The Holy Night) and was painted by Christian Wilhelm Ernst Dietrich (1712-1774). It was a copy of Italian Renaissance painter Antonio da Correggio’s (1489-1534) famous painting “La Notte”, which is on display in the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister (Gallery of Old Masters) in Dresden. In September 2011, Israeli restorers prepared the work for shipment to Germany. The oil painting originally hung in the New Palace in Potsdam and was sent to Jerusalem as a gift from Kaiser Wilhelm II. At the beginning of 2012, it was sent to Potsdam for restoration. From April 2012, it was displayed at the exhibition “FRIEDERISIKO – Frederick the Great” in Potsdam, where it was said to be on loan from Jerusalem. The painting currently hangs in its original place, in Frederick’s Blue Room in the New Palace. It is one of the few artworks from the original interior that have survived. The King had the copy made to show off his victory over the Saxons. “This was the Prussian’s way of showing himself to be a benevolent king who was satisfied with a copy even though he could have simply used the original,” explained Dr. Alfred Hagemann, who works for the Stiftung Preussische Schlösser und Museen (Prussian Palaces and Museums Foundation).
The fact that Kaiser Wilhelm II (or rather his wife Auguste Victoria, who was the driving force) was responsible for the construction of the Church of the Ascension was probably also why it was possible to build an organ. The commission was given to Wilhelm Sauer from Frankfurt an der Oder, whose company enjoyed great renown in its day.
The fact that the Sauer organ in Jerusalem has been fully preserved is a unique cultural and spiritual gift. All the pipes are original; the small amount of work that was done over the course of 100 years encroached only a little or not at all on the organ's historic substance. Fortunately, it was possible to repair the damage caused by the earthquake of 1927 and the time in which it was left to decay (when the church was used as a warehouse and birds nested in the organ).
Es ist ein einzigartiges kulturelles und geistliches Geschenk, dass die Jerusalemer Sauerorgel vollständig erhalten ist. Alle Pfeifen sind original, die wenigen Arbeiten, die im Laufe von 100 Jahren durchgeführt wurden, griffen nur wenig oder gar nicht in die historische Substanz ein. Die Schäden des Erdbebens von 1927 oder der Zeit der Verwahrlosung (als die Kirche als Lagerhalle genutzt wurde und in der Orgel Vogelnester waren) konnten behoben werden.
Moreover, this is the only surviving German organ to have been built with great love, skill and financial effort in Palestine between 1890 and 1940. Its intangible value as a testimony to faith, spirituality and the culture of worship preserved by the German communities for more than 100 years is inestimable.
According to an inscription (inside the organ), the instrument in Jerusalem was constructed by organ builder Granzin. It was he who was responsible for the building of the cathedral organ in Berlin just a short time later.
By the standards of those times, the organ on the Mount of Olives was not large, having just 24 stops; however, its dimensions were positively gigantic, covering an area of approx. 24 m2. From its outstanding position in the rear gallery, it fills the room in a fashion that is quite unique.2 geradezu riesige Ausmaße. Sie füllt mit dem hervorragenden Standort auf der hinteren Empore den Raum in ganz einzigartige Weise.
In Germany, many Sauer organs have been irretrievably lost. They were destroyed during the two World Wars or fell victim to modern taste and were demolished. Some of them were converted during the organ revival movement or irreverently modified during the so-called second organ revival movement after the 1950s, which saw historically significant pipe material irretrievably destroyed.
The Sauer organ of the Church of the Ascension in Jerusalem has a uniformity of tone that is virtually unparalleled elsewhere. The fact that the church and the organ were constructed simultaneously facilitated a dialogue between the original organ and the original acoustic of the church (renovated in 1991) which is only rarely heard.
If you are interested in the sound of the Sauer organ, we recommend you listen to our CDs. (Link to souvenir shop)
1898 The German emperor Kaiser Wilhelm II visits Palestine with his wife Auguste Victoria and approves the German Protestant community’s request to build a nursing home – particularly for malaria sufferers – and a hospice for Christian pilgrims on the Mount of Olives.
1907 The foundation stone is laid.
1910 The hospice is dedicated together with the Church of the Ascension. However, the building work is not completed for another four years.
1914 At the beginning of World War I, the Empress Augusta Victoria Foundation serves the German-Turkish general staff as their headquarters.
1917 The building complex is occupied by the British. Over the next ten years, the British High Commissioner and his officials govern the mandated territory from here.
1927 A major earthquake damages the building.
1928 The International Missionary Council (a predecessor of the World Council of Churches) meets on the Foundation’s premises.
1939 After the outbreak of World War II, the building is used as a British military hospital.
1948 The land and buildings are transferred to the Lutheran World Federation to be held in trust.
1949 After the Arab-Israeli War, the International Red Cross opens a hospital for Palestinian refugees.
1950 The LWF takes over the running of the hospital in cooperation with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency.
1988-1991 The church is renovated and the damage caused by the earthquake repaired.
2010 The Foundation's festival hall is renovated during the church's jubilee year. The altar of the former chapel of the Syrian Orphanage is set up in the side aisle of the church.
Nowadays, visitors to Israel and Palestine can admire and buy many handcrafted items. Ceramics are known to have been made here more than 5000 years ago, as the watertight properties of this material make it extremely useful. At the beginning of the 20th century, the Armenians who were responsible for the repairs to the Dome of the Rock also made these ceramics even more widely known.
Ceramics from Beit Gemal
Our hand-painted ceramics come from the small monastery of Beit Gemal, situated between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. The tranquil, open and unspoilt countryside has drawn people to this area since time immemorial. Rabbi Gamaliel, St. Paul’s teacher and a member of the High Council, is said to be buried here.
The nuns who live here call themselves the “Little Sisters of Bethlehem”.
They find their way to God by painting ceramics. This spiritual occupation helps them appreciate the beauty of God's creation. The nuns use both western and oriental patterns and techniques in their ceramic painting.
Ceramics from Hebron
These hand-painted ceramics come from a family-run company in Hebron, which has been noted for its ceramics and glass-blowing for decades. The ceramics are made by a family which has passed down and perfected this craft over several generations. Nowadays, only four such families are left. All the steps from mixing the various types of clay, drying it, colouring it and firing it in the kiln to painting it are carried out by the family itself. One thing that makes these ceramics so special is that the company builds its own kilns as well as creating its own designs. The patterns are stamped on the finished ceramics and then painted by hand.
Various families from Hebron help paint the ceramics as it would otherwise be impossible for the company to manufacture them on such a large scale. The company attaches great importance to its products being beautiful as well as useful.
In Bethlehem, the art of carving olive wood goes back to the 4th century AD, when the Christian monks who built the Church of the Nativity taught the local population the techniques they needed to make rosaries and other religious artefacts. Over the years that followed, carving olive wood became one of the region’s main industries. Even now, this craft is mainly pursued by Palestinian Christians who pass on the tradition from generation to generation within their families.
Our wood carvings come from LifeGate, a centre for mentally and physically disabled children and young people from the West Bank. The centre, which opened in 2012, is located in Beit Jala, right next to Bethlehem.
Here the children and young people receive an education and training that would otherwise not be available to them in this form. When they reach the age of 16, the young people can pursue a two or three-year course of training in gardening, cooking, sewing, machine-knitting, leatherwork, shoe repairs, metalwork and of course carving olive wood. After a lengthy drying process, the young people use various techniques and machines to process the wood.
Embroidery is an important part of Palestinian culture. In former times, the embroidered clothing worn by women indicated not only their social status but also the place where they lived. During the first Intifada, the embroidery was used for revolutionary purposes. As the Palestinian flag was banned, the women began combining the traditional tatreez patterns with the national colours or other Palestinian emblems. Nowadays, tatreez patterns are often seen on clothing and accessories.
Idna Ladies’ Association
Idna is a remote village that lies south-west of the city of Hebron. Along with inadequate healthcare and a poor education system, the village suffers above all from high levels of unemployment.
In 1998, a group of women banded together to form the “Idna Ladies’ Association”. The purpose of this small project was to reduce unemployment and create a source of income for the families of the women involved. With the help of Toshiko Mizumoto, a Japanese designer and dressmaker, 40 enthusiastic women learned skills in the areas of design, sewing, quality control, warehousing and financial management. The women have since been able to move from a modest room to a workshop equipped with machinery and work tables.
However, they mostly work at home. This means they can also take care of their children and households while the men are at work. In all, the women spend about 7 to 12 days on one piece of embroidery.
This project has changed the women's lives. Their income has made many of them their family's main breadwinners. As such, and through acquiring a wide range of skills, the women have developed a sense of independence and self-esteem.
The Idna Ladies’ Association is affiliated with the Palestinian fair trade organisation Sunbula and has consequently bound itself to the principles of fair trade, which include the maintenance of fair working conditions and the payment of a fair wage.
Some of our embroidery comes from the Bedouins now living in Abu Dis. They were previously driven out of the Negev and forced to settle here by the Israeli government. The women make a living by selling embroidery with typical traditional patterns. With the few resources they have available, they also try to give their children the opportunity to play and spend time together in a kind of community art centre.
Um ihren Lebensunterhalt zu bestreiten, verkaufen die Frauen Stickereien mit typisch traditionellen Mustern. Mit wenigen Ressourcen versuchen sie außerdem, in einer Art Community Center ihren Kindern Möglichkeiten zum gemeinsamen Spiel und Miteinander zu eröffnen.
L’Arche is an international project which works with people with disabilities.
There is also a branch of L’Arche in Bethlehem. Most of the people who work here are mentally disabled. The project specialises in wool work. Special attention is paid to fostering the participants’ personal growth. They are given responsibility and the opportunity to contribute their skill to the community. Another important part of L’Arche’s work is to help people generate their own income. As disabled people only rarely find work, a regular weekly income is a vital support for themselves and their families. The organisation's goal is to change the way in which mentally disabled people are perceived by having people with and without disabilities work together on projects.
Our cushions were made by hand at the Domari Center. The Center was founded in Jerusalem in 1999 and has set itself the task of raising awareness of the Sinti and Roma (also known as gypsies, Domaries or Dom) and building bridges between these and other groups.
Even today, the Dom are only barely tolerated, as the strangeness of their lifestyle and language arouses mistrust in many people. Selling the cushions and jewellery they make at the Center enables most of the women to feed their families. Along with the women's handiwork, the Center also supports Dom children by offering them educational support in the form of homework supervision and study time as well as one warm meal a day.