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Biblical Archaeology Review 47:1, Spring 2021

Strata: Site-Seeing: The Other Upper Room

By Jonathan Klawans

The traditional location of the Last Supper—the Crusader era “Upper Room,” known also as the Cenacle—has one thing going for it: height. The only location-specific information we can pull from the various Last Supper accounts is that Jesus and his apostles secured a large furnished space, the upper room of an unnamed (and presumably wealthy) householder in Jerusalem (Mark 14:12-16). The Cenacle stands tall indeed, nesting above David’s tomb on the heights of Mount Zion. But who knew that Mount Zion’s Christian claim to fame has a competitor—in a basement?

The Monastery of St. Mark is the central church for the Syrian Orthodox Church in Jerusalem. Syrian Orthodox Christians today often worship in Arabic, but their official religious language remains Syriac, a dialect of Aramaic. Services in this language are held here on Friday evenings. Like the Coptic and Ethiopic churches, the Syrian Orthodox Church maintains its linguistic and theological independence from other Orthodox communities.

By the entryway to the compound, an English inscription identifies the place as the location of the “Upper Room,” as well as the house of St. Mark (Acts 12:12)—hence “the first church in Christianity.” A Syriac inscription inside the doorway of the church itself ostensibly provides ancient support to the second of these claims.

The church structure is modest: It dates back to the Crusader period (so the guidebooks say) and consists of a single room, under a vaulted ceiling. Lacking pillars, it doesn’t even qualify as a small basilica.

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