Monastery of Alcobaca

Monastery of the Cross

May refer to either of the twin Georgian monasteries (one in Mtskheta, Georgia, and the other in Jerusalem.)

The Monastery of the Cross in Jerusalem, was built in the 11th century by Georgians (under the patronage of Queen Tamar of Georgia), located in the Valley of the Cross (ჯვრის მონასტერი, עמק המצלבה Emeq HaMatzlevah) (31°46'20.27"N, 35°12'30.96"E, 783m) overlooked by the Israel Museum and the Knesset. It is believed that the site was originally consecrated in the 4th century under the instruction of the Roman emperor Constantine the great, who later gave the site to the Georgian King Miriam III after the conversion of his country to Christianity in 327 A.D.

Legend has it that the monastery was erected on the burial spot of Adam's head — though two other locations in Jerusalem also claim this honor — from which grew the tree that gave its wood to the cross on which Christ was crucified.

The monastery is currently occupied by monks of the Jerusalem Patriarchate.

Current bulidings

The remains of the crusader period monastery forms a small part of the current complex, most of which dates much more recently and has undergone considerable restoration and rebuilding. The crusader section houses a church, including a grotto where a window into the ground below allows viewing of the spot where the tree from which the cross was (reputedly) fashioned grew. Remains from the 4th century are sparse, the most important of which is a fragment of a mosaic.

The main complex houses living quarters for the resident monks as well as a large section open to the public. The public area includes a museum, exhibits showing how monks lived in the past, a coffee shop, and a gift shop. The public may also visit the 11th century church and see the location of the tree from which the cross was made. Since it is an active religious complex, entry is strongly discouraged for people not appropriately dressed (for example, wearing shorts).

The whole complex lies within a large area of undeveloped land, which is closed to the public and is not used for any agricultural purpose.

Lost artwork

Between 1901 and 1908, the Georgian priest Petre Konchoshvili, the Russian scholar Nikodim Kondakov and the German scholar Anton Baumstark have published descriptions and photos of the wall paintings, many of which have since been destroyed or removed from the walls and sold in Europe.

Among the scenes attested in the scholarly publications which are currently lost include the following:

  • In the sanctuary: Abraham Giving Three Branches to Lot, the Procuring the Cross by Queen Hellen.
  • On the south pilaster of the sanctuary at the feet of the Christ Pantocrator there was the now partially ‘cut out’ figure of Georgian Queen Mariam (17thc).
  • In the diaconicon - the Adoration of the Magi.
  • The figure of Pantocrator in the dome. On the west wall, south of the west door - representations of St. Constantine and St. Hellen.
  • On the west wall a row of Georgian donors were represented, among the Georgian kings: King Mirian (4th c.), King Vakhtang Gorgasali (5th c), King Bagrat IV (11th c).
  • Above the western door Giorgi-Prochore Shavsheli, the Georgian abbot of the monastery in the 11th century, who built the existing church, was represented. On the sides of the west wall the Georgian nobelmen Paata and Khaikhosro Dsulukidze and a group portrait of the Georgian monks of the Holy Cross Monastery were depicted.
  • On the south wall there was a portrait of Levan Dadiani, Prince of Samegrelo with his family. On the north wall, the Georgian noblemen and poets Euthymius Grdzelidze, Arsen Vachesdze, Ioane Chimchimeli (12th c) and Khaikhosro Choloqashvili (17th c) were portrayed.
  • In the arch of the western arm four Syrian Fathers (Georgian saints of the 6th c) were depicted.

“Wisdom Has Built Her House” on the west side of the south-east pier. It was still in situ in the photos taken in 1960.

  • The east side of the south-east pier: St. Luke and St.Georgi-Prochore (Georgian clergymen of the 11th and 13th cc.; this image was removed in the 1980-es and sold on auction; now in the Svetitskhoveli Cathedral in Georgia); The Christ’s Temptation by the Devil. . It was still in situ on the photos taken in 1960.
  • On the south side of the south-east pier St. Sebastian (this image was removed in the 1980s and sold at auction; it is now in Georgia), at his feet Ioane Guruli (now lost). These images were still in situ in the photos taken in 1960.
  • On the north side of the south-east pier two compositions: Elijah’s Ascension and the representation of St. Elijah and St. Elishah (this image was removed in the 1980s and sold at auction; it is now in the Sioni Cathedral, Tbilisi). It was still in situ in the photos taken in 1960.
  • The votive representations of the following figures from Georgian history have also been totally destroyed: Maxime, the Catholicos of Abkhazia, Elise Tbileli and Nikiphore Choloqashvili (17th c).
  • The copper disc with a Georgian inscription was removed from the floor pavement; the silver jeweled cross, donation of Nikiphoré Cholokashvili, is lost. The two silver crosses donated by the Patriarch of Georgia and the Georgian clergymen also disappeared.

Vandalism of Rustaveli fresco

The fresco representing the legendary Georgian poet Shota Rustaveli was vandalized in June, 2004. An unknown criminal scratched out the face of Shota Rustaveli and part of the accompanying Georgian inscription with his name on the south-west pier. Georgia officially complained to Israel after the incident. Similar cases occurred in the monastery previously in 1970s and 1980s. The Georgian inscriptions were painted over and replaced by Greek ones. For instance, in the 1901 photograph of the Council of Archangels there are Georgian inscriptions, but on the 1960 photographs the inscriptions are Greek; after cleaning the paintings, the Georgian inscriptions emerged again. The same happened in the case of the Anapeston. In many places (e.g. near the figures of St. Luke and St. Prochore) the outline of Georgian letters are clearly seen under the Greek inscription that is there now; in the 1980s the Greek Patriarchate had the frescoes ‘restored’ or, to be more precise, they were repainted very crudely with oil paints to acquire a more ‘complete aspect,’ as a result of which many features of the original paintings have been lost.


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