The Dormitio Abbey (basilica and convent buildings) now urgently needs to be renovated, the plaster is flaking and the installations no longer meet today’s requirements. Based on the coalition agreement of 2018 in Germany (CDU, CSU and SPD), it is briefly stated under marginal number 7323ff. that funds are to be made available for the urgently necessary renovation work of Dormitio Abbey. On 03.09.2020 it was now made public that in addition to the already completed renovation of the crypt, the remaining buildings of Dormitio Abbey are now to be renovated by 2022. This is reason enough to take a brief look at the history of Dormitio Abbey and to dedicate a special Christmas season event to it.

History of the Dormitio Abbey

The Dormitio Abbey is a German-speaking Benedictine abbey on Mount Zion in Jerusalem in the Holy Land. An abbey is a monastery, which is regularly headed by an abbot. A basilica, on the other hand, is an honorary title under canon law. This title is to be given to particularly venerable and significant churches and is awarded directly by the pope. However, today’s Mount Zion is not identical with the biblical Zion. On Mount Zion, in addition to the aforementioned Dormitio Abbey, there is also the Tomb of David, the Catholic cemetery and other historical sites. The spiritual foundation stone of Dormitio Abbey was laid in 1898 by Kaiser Wilhelm II. He bought the land on Zionsberg from Sultan Abdülhamid I and handed it over to the German Association of the Holy Land for further cultivation. The concrete first stone was then laid two years later in October 1900 and after ten years of construction the building was completed. The basilica and the monastery buildings are still owned by the German Association of the Holy Land, which continues to maintain the buildings (maintenance work) and makes the entire complex available to the Benedictines. Since 2011 the Dormitio Abbey has also been home to the Jerusalem Institute of the German Görres Society (JIGG). On behalf of the German Bishops’ Conference (DBK), Dormitio Abbey provides pastoral care for the German-speaking faithful living in Jerusalem or visiting the Holy Land. German-language services are thus held regularly in the Abbey and the monks also act as pastoral care providers.

Admission of Mary to heaven (Dormitio)

The Feast of the Assumption of Mary into Heaven is celebrated on August 15th. Colloquially one speaks not of the Latin Dormitio but rather of the Assumption of Mary. Mary, the Mother of God, reaches heaven with body and soul to her Son, without decomposition in the grave as is the case with ordinary mortals. In 1950, Pope Pius XII established the feast of the Assumption of Mary to heaven as a dogma. This almost a century after the proclamation of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception by Pope Pius IX in 1854. The two doctrinal contents belong together system immanently. This, since Mary herself is not only conceived without sin but is also saved from the corruption of the body. The Ascension is thus based on the Immaculate Conception of Mary. Thus Mary is freed from every stain of original sin. Thus, Mary’s conception is not, as often misunderstood, the virgin birth as the conception of Jesus, but rather the procreation of the Mother of God (as the Immaculate) herself.

In addition to the two dogmas on Mary mentioned above, the papal infallibility and the jurisdictional primacy of the pope in 1870 were recorded in the Catholic Church in the form of a dogma. The Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) then continued to record the dogmas as lasting truths, but in the sense of a hierarchy of truths not all dogmas should be given equal weight.

Fire at the same time as the pope’s visit in 2014

Pope Francis made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 2014. A few hours after he celebrated Holy Mass on Zion Hill on May 26, 2014, a fire broke out in the Dormitio Basilica, more precisely in the crypt. Arson is still suspected, but evidence of this has not yet been published. The Benedictine monks, thanks to the attention and support of a visitor, were able to control the fire on their own. A fire of the Dormitio Basilica would probably have affected the whole Zionsberg.

In the run-up to the Pope’s visit, Jewish activists had protested against the papal service in the Upper Room. This lies over the tomb, which is believed to be the work of King David (the so-called David’s tomb). There is a persistent rumor among Jewish activists that the Catholic Church wants to take back control of these premises. The Cenacle, located on Mount Zion, had been under the care of the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land for 200 years, but was expropriated by Süleyman the Magnificent in the 16th century and only came under Israeli control after the founding of the State of Israel in 1948.

Christmas from Jerusalem to Bethlehem

After the midnight service on December 25th in the Basilica of Dormitio, the monks set off on foot for Bethlehem, collecting the names (and indirectly the concerns of the faithful) in advance, which are then printed on a scroll on the way to Bethlehem. The name of a person already has a great significance in the Bible.

Fear not, for I have redeemed you, I have called you by name, you belong to me.

Jes 43,1

A beautiful tradition and also this year the names of the author’s family members, among others, have made their way to Bethlehem, the Church of the Nativity of Jesus.


Unpublished materials on the Dormitio Abbey in private library
Kohler, Oliver (2005): Zwischen christlicher Zionssehnsucht und kaiserlicher Politik – Die Entstehung von Kirche und Kloster Dormitio Beatae Mariae Virginis in Jerusalem; EOS Verlag.
Schnabel, Nikodemus (2015): Zuhause im Niemandsland: Mein Leben im Kloster zwischen Israel und Palästina; Herder-Verlag.
Fürst, Heinrich; Geiger, Gregor (2020): Im Land des Herrn: Ein franziskanischer Pilger- und Reiseführer für das Heilige Land; Bonifatius.
Website of the Dormitio Abbey.

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