Ecce Homo Arch – Via Dolorosa, Jerusalem

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We are on Via dolorosa, one of the most sacred places for Christians and the main pilgrimage location in Jerusalem. Via dolorosa is a tradition that took shape over many hundreds of years, the purpose of which, among other things, is to commemorate the events related to the suffering of Jesus. Fourteen stations are on the Via dolorosa, five of which are in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

The first part of the road passes through the Muslim quarter where we are now, and then continues through the Christian quarter.

I am standing tens of meters west of the Convent of the Sisters of Zion. From here you can see very nicely the “Ecce homo” arch, one of the famous arches in Jerusalem, and this is not because of archaeological reasons, but because of the traditions associated with the arch, and I am referring to the last days of Jesus in Jerusalem.

The name of the arch is Ecce Homo, which when translated from Latin to English, it means, “behold the man”, and I will explain shortly why it is called so.

In 35 BC, during the 2nd Temple period, Herod the Great built the Antonia Fortress in the northwest side of the Temple Mount complex. Herod named it after the Roman general, Marcus Antonius. The arch resembles in its shape, a monumental entrance to Roman cities or fortresses, therefore, the pilgrims in the previous centuries attributed the arch & the gate to the Antonia fortress. There is another piece of information that is needed here. According to Christian tradition, Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor, stood on an arch while conducting Jesus’ trial. The incorrect assumption in the past, regarding the size of Antonia’s fortress was that it extended up to the current location of the Convent of the Sisters of Zion, 25 meters from my location. This was based, among other things, on the existence of an ancient arch in the fortress, because according to the Christian belief, Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor conducted Jesus’ trial, in Antonia’s fortress.

The course of things and Pilate’s words are written in the Gospel according to John chapter 19, and I am quoting the famous words by Pontius Pilate “Ecce homo” and in English: “behold the man”.

The central part of the arch goes out into the street and was considered for a long time, mistakenly, to be the place where Pontius Pilate introduced Jesus to the crowd after judging him saying “Ecce Homo”, “behold the man”. The fact that two windows from which one can look out onto the street were integrated into the arch, strengthened the tradition that this was the place.

This arch formed the central opening of a triumphal gate with three arches in the eastern vestibules of Aelia Capitolina, probably built by the Roman emperor Hadrian. It is important to remember that although Hadrian’s reign is considered one of the most prosperous during the reign of the emperors in Rome, he is the one who suppressed the Bar Kochba revolt in the year 135, in which hundreds of thousands of Jews lost their lives, and he is the one who among other things, prohibited the entry of Jews to Jerusalem that he, Emperor Hadrian, turned into a pagan city called Aelia Capitolina.

Look at the arch and imagine the smaller side arches, it was a gate which included 3 arches in the format of a conventional Roman triumphal gate. The southern arch was probably incorporated into the building across the road, where there used to be a hostel for Muslim pilgrims from several Asian countries, but no remains of the southern gate exist.

I am at the entrance to the Convent of the Sisters of Zion. To see the northern arch, we will continue on Via dolorosa and turn right at the second entrance. Through the window you can see the arch that is integrated into the prayer chapel. You can also see on the right side of the small arch, the beginning of the big arch. This is part of the “Ecce Homo” arch that we saw on the street before entering the Convent. Approximately 600 such arches are known in the Roman world. In Jerusalem, during the Roman period, there were apparently three other similar triumphal gates. The location of the 1st was at Nablus Gate, the 2nd was north of Nablus Gate and the 3rd was near the Church of the Sepulchre.

We have reached the end of the video, and as usual I have a question for you. There was another reason that contributed to the wrong assumption that the Convent of the Sisters of Zion was built on the original grounds of Antonia fortress, what was the reason? The answer will appear at the end of the video.

How to get there?

Information Sources

  1. Book: Pathways in Jerusalem, Editors: Eyal Meiron, Publisher: Yad Yitzhak Ben-Zvi
  2. Book: Via dolorosa in Jerusalem, Editor: Eli Shiler, Publisher: Ariel

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