Monastery of the Cross (Jerusalem)
The Monastery of the Cross in Jerusalem is an Orthodox Christian monastery located in a valley in western Jerusalem to which the monastery gave it its name: the Valley of the Cross. The monastery, which by tradition traces its origins to the fifth century, is under the jurisdiction of the Church of Jerusalem. Construction of the present monastery complex began in the eleventh century by Georgian monks.
The site of the monastery is connected to legends of earlier biblical times. The oldest is that the monastery is located on the burial spot of Adam's head. Later legends place the site of the monastery at the place the tree grew that was used to build the cross of the crucifixion. The site of the tree is marked in a room of the monastery. The tree is also associated with the triplet seeding of olive, cypress, and cedar given by Abraham to Lot.
A monastery was originally built on the present site in the fifth century and was repaired in mid sixth century during the reign of emperor Justinian. During the Persian invasion of Jerusalem in 614, the monastery was largely destroyed and became deserted in the last decade of the eighth century when Arabs murdered the remaining monks.
In the eleventh century, Georgian monks began to restore the monastery. The monastery enjoyed some good times during the period of crusader occupation of Jerusalem, and by the fourteenth century the monastery had become the center of the Georgian community in Jerusalem, hosting hundreds of monks and scholars. However, after the crusaders were driven out in 1267, the Mamelukes, who then controlled Jerusalem, removed the monks, demolished the church in the monastery, and built a mosque within the monastery complex. The monks, however, were permitted to return to the monastery in 1305 as the Mamelukes relented under pressure from Constantinople.
In the sixteenth century, the Arabs, who then controlled Jerusalem, demanded that the monastery church be converted into a mosque, using as their reason that a mosque existed in the monastery complex in the thirteenth century. This attempt, however, was fended off. In 1685, control over the monastery was transferred from the Orthodox Georgian monks to the Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem. Since then the size of the monastic population has decreased greatly over the subsequent centuries.
The monastery complex is situated behind high, fortress like walls that reflected its original situation outside the Jerusalem city walls when protection was needed during those turbulent times. The monastery church contains frescoes that were painted in the seventeenth century over original thirteenth century paintings. The remains of the ancient pre-eighth century mosaic floor are preserved in the church.
The traditions of the triplet tree of Abraham and Lot is remembered in the iconography of the monastery: a painting over the entrance door and in the Room of the Holy Tree.
While the monastery remains active today, it has been subject of vandalism. During the past several decades incidents of defacing Georgian inscriptions on frescoes with ones in Greek have occurred. The latest, in 2004, involved defacing a fresco by the Georgian poet Shota Rustaveli in which the face and accompanying inscription were vandalized.