St. Francis Ad Coenaculum | Custodia Terrae Sanctae

St. Francis Ad Coenaculum

The St. Francis Ad Coenaculum Monastery is located near the Cenacle, where tradition places the Last Supper and Pentecost. The Custody of the Holy Land built its head office precisely at the Cenacle, at the time of its foundation in 1333. Today, the official title of the Custos of the Holy Land, in fact, is still  “Guardian of Mount Zion and of the Holy Sepulchre,” due to the great importance of both places.
The Friars Minor lived in the Cenacle Convent on Mount Zion from the 14th to the 16th century, after they were chased out by the Ottomans. On Mount Zion they returned in 1936, to homes purchased by the Palestinians and refurbished for the fraternity. They are the original nucleus of what is known today as the Monastery of St. Francis Ad Coenaculum, affectionately renamed the “Little Cenacle” or “Cenacolino.”

The Cenacle has been recognized as the place of the Last Supper since the first centuries of Christianity. It was also the location of the primitive Apostolic Church.
In the second half of the fourth century, Christians converted the small church into a large basilica they called “Holy Zion” and “Mother of all churches,” due to its apostolic origin. The Holy Zion Church suffered several destructions and restorations; it was then rebuilt from the foundations in the Crusader period (XII century) and renamed with the name of “St. Mary on Mount Zion.”
After its demolition of 1219, ordered by the sultan, the Cenacle (medieval) was the only chapel left with the commemorative Tomb of David located below it. 

In 1333, the Franciscans were able to acquire the place, as a gift from the rulers of Naples, Robert of Anjou and Sancia of Maiorca, which became the first seat of the Custody of the Holy Land. Among many hardships, the monastery was inhabited until 1552, after the friars were chased out by the Ottomans, who transformed the Cenacle into a mosque. From that moment forward, it has not been  possible to celebrate masses in the Cenacle room, however, the Franciscans are allowed to go there and officially gather in prayer on the day of Pentecost. Furthermore, over less than ten years, the Franciscans of the Custody of the Holy Land have made a stop at the Cenacle during the Holy Thursday pilgrimage, where they perform the washing of the feet ritual.

After the expulsion from the Cenacle
After their expulsion from the Cenacle, the friars were first hosted by the Armenians. Meanwhile, they bought the St. Savior Monastery (where their headquarters can still be found), located in the Old City, just a few steps from the Holy Sepulcher. In 1559, they built the Church of St. Savior on the first floor, in memory of the Cenacle, the so-called “room on the Upper Floor.”  From 1561, Pope Pius IV granted St. Savior the same indulgences given to the Cenacle, which Pope Leo XIII would confirm 324 years later. This small church would be the one to witness the rebirth of Catholic life in the holy city, in an organized way, becoming the seat of the first Catholic parish in Jerusalem.

However, in order to maintain a presence on Mount Zion, in 1936 the Franciscans decided to live in a house not far from the Cenacle, purchased by Palestinians, which became the St. Francis Ad Coenaculum Monastery (called Cenacolino). A chapel was then built in commemoration of the Eucharist. On October 12, 2014, the restoration of the Monastery of St. Francis at the Cenacle was opened with the creation of a chapel dedicated to the Holy Spirit and the new garden for pilgrims.

The Last Supper

The evangelists unfortunately did not leave exact indications about the house where the events of that evening would have taken place, perhaps precisely because it was a place that was very well known in the days of the early Church. From the tone of confidence in Jesusquestion, we can also deduce that the Master was already well known by the owner of the house. For us today, the only certainty is that it was a great room on the upper floor,” and that there, as the guest of a most likely wealthy family, Jesus celebrated the Last Supper with his disciples.

On the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, when they sacrificed the Passover lamb,his disciples said to him, “Where do you want us to go and prepare for you to eat the Passover?” He sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the city and a man will meet you, carrying a jar of water. Follow him. Wherever he enters, say to the master of the house, ‘The Teacher says, “Where is my guest room where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?”’ Then he will show you a large upper room furnished and ready. Make the preparations for us there.” The disciples then went off, entered the city, and found it just as he had told them; and they prepared the Passover.

When it was evening, he came with the Twelve. And as they reclined at table and were eating, Jesus said, “Amen, I say to you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me.” They began to be distressed and to say to him, one by one, “Surely it is not I?” He said to them, “One of the Twelve, the one who dips with me into the dish. For the Son of Man indeed goes, as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed. It would be better for that man if he had never been born.”

While they were eating, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them, and said, “Take it; this is my body.”Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, and they all drank from it. He said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many. Amen, I say to you, I shall not drink again the fruit of the vine until the day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” Then, after singing a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives”(Mark 14: 17-26).

The Washing of the Feet

In the Gospel according to John, Jesus last Paschal supper is not described; it is a given. However, John recounts the episode of the washing of the feet in order to transform it into a key moment of Christs departure, which sheds light back on his entire existence and offers the disciples gathered for the Supper, yesterday and today, an extraordinary example :

Before the feast of Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to pass from this world to the Father. He loved his own in the world and he loved them to the end. The devil had already induced Judas, son of Simon the Iscariot, to hand him over. So, during supper, fully aware that the Father had put everything into his power and that he had come from God and was returning to God, he rose from supper and took off his outer garments. He took a towel and tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and dry them with the towel around his waist. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Master, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus answered and said to him, “What I am doing, you do not understand now, but you will understand later.” Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “Unless I wash you, you will have no inheritance with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Master, then not only my feet, but my hands and head as well.” Jesus said to him, “Whoever has bathed has no need except to have his feet washed, for he is clean all over; so you are clean, but not all.” For he knew who would betray him; for this reason, he said, “Not all of you are clean.”

So when he had washed their feet [and] put his garments back on and reclined at table again, he said to them, “Do you realize what I have done for you? You call me ‘teacher’ and ‘master,’ and rightly so, for indeed I am. If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do. Amen, amen, I say to you, no slave is greater than his master nor any messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you understand this, blessed are you if you do it. I am not speaking of all of you. I know those whom I have chosen. But so that the scripture might be fulfilled, ‘The one who ate my food has raised his heel against me.’ From now on I am telling you before it happens, so that when it happens you may believe that I AM” (John 13: 1-19).


After the Resurrection

After the events of Easter, when the disciples were gathered on the evening of the first day of the week,” Jesus would again reach them by showing himself in all his Risen power (Jn 20,19-23).

And eight days later the disciples were at home again, and Thomas was with them too (John 20:26). Where, if not in that same room upstairs where they had gathered before the Passion? So much so that Luke in the Acts of the Apostles speaks of the upstairs room as if it were obvious which one it was. It was there that the original community had a permanent seat after the ascension of Jesus (Acts 1: 12-14).


“When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all in one place together. And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were. Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them. And they were all filled with the holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim.

Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven staying in Jerusalem. At this sound, they gathered in a large crowd, but they were confused because each one heard them speaking in his own language. They were astounded, and in amazement they asked, “Are not all these people who are speaking Galileans?Then how does each of us hear them in his own native language? We are Parthians, Medes, and Elamites, inhabitants of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya near Cyrene, as well as travelers from Rome, both Jews and converts to Judaism, Cretans and Arabs, yet we hear them speaking in our own tongues of the mighty acts of God” (Acts 2: 1-11).


The St. Francis Ad Coenaculum Monastery on Mount Zion was derived from the adaptation of a complex of Arab houses around 1936 by Fr. Jaime Lull, with the aim of offering pilgrims the opportunity to celebrate the mysteries of the Cenacle in a place near the Sanctuary. Given the increasing flow of pilgrims, an extension of celebratory spaces was requested. For this purpose, the Custody of the Holy Land decided to expand the lower chapel and give a new layout to the garden, with the collaboration of the artist Michele Canzoneri and the artist /architect Rossella Leone.

The Garden
Monastic architecture is almost always accompanied by a closed and porticoed garden for the natural continuation of prayer in the open space intended for medicinal crops. The garden attached to the St. Francis Monastery, on the other hand, adapts to the new needs of visitors, improves the welcoming of pilgrims, and does not present itself as the classic cloister. The new layout is characterized by a strong sculptural connotation in white Jerusalem stone and becomes a sort of open labyrinth. The pilgrims can thus proceed along a marked path that goes from the entrance gate to the small churchyard on which the portal of the new lower chapel dedicated to the Holy Spirit opens.
In the garden, which entirely made of white stone, just like the city of Jerusalem, several trees have been planted: a carob tree, a monumental pine tree, palm trees, cypresses, olive trees and laurels, citrus fruits, albizia trees Judas trees (because everything begins with the betrayal) and almond trees, a symbol of vigilance , where the flow of water in the fish tank resounds.

The Lower Chapel
Michele Canzoneri redesigned the interior space of the lower chapel, obtained from the two cross-vaulted spans, according to a precise luminous and liturgical plan. The entrance of the light is modulated by the stained glass window/sculpture of the apse, oriented towards the Cenacle. The other seven stained glass windows (made in his studio in Palermo, out of full blown glass, acrylic glass and pigments) follow the theological themes chosen by friar Enrique Bermejo, president of the monastery, together with the artist: the washing of the Feet, the apparition to the disciples, the apostles with Mary, Pentecost, Peter’s Speech, Baptism (the main access to the chapel from the garden), and the Eucharist (internal access from the convent).
For the liturgical areas, the altar, ambo and seat, the stones were selected from local quarries, then worked on in various laboratories in Bethlehem.
His works also include the crucifix made of resin and blown glass with the colors of the Franciscan tradition, the door of the sacristy made of cypress wood, and table of the cenacle, divided into twelve panels marked by twelve glass nails. The new spaces of the “Cenacolino” were inaugurated on October 12, 2014.

St. Francis Ad Cœnaculum Monastery 
P.O.B. 14039 
91140 Mount Sion – Jerusalem
Tel: +972. 02 / 671.35.97
Fax: +972. 02 / 671.09.81

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