The Church of the Pater Noster is located on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, Israel. The church, although not completed is a reconstruction of the 4th century church which once stood on this spot. The Church of the Pater Noster holds significance for Christians as Jesus is thought to have spent time in the cave which lies beneath it.
The Name: Pater Noster
The Church has been referred to by several names over the years: Church of the Eleona – Greek for olive grove as it is on the Mount of Olives; St. Helen, Emperor Constantine’s mother, named the church Church of the Disciples, but the name we know today “Pater Noster” means “Our Father” in Latin and was coined by the Crusaders in the 12th century.
New Testament References to the Pater Noster
In a grotto on this site it is believed that Jesus taught his followers and specifically his disciples whom he taught the Lord’s Prayer. In Luke 11:1-4 the disciples ask Jesus to teach them how to pray and Christ then recites the “Our Father”. In Mathew 24:1-26:2 it talks of Jesus teaching here about the battle between good and evil. In the 2nd century Acts of John the location is mentioned as being in a “cave on the Mount of Olives”. Today the main Biblical association with the site is the teaching of the Lord’s Prayer although the Sermon on the Mount is also mentioned in the Bible in Mathew 6:6-16 as being when Jesus taught this prayer.
On the walls of the Pater Noster convent the “Our Father” has been written in 62 languages on decorated Armenian ceramic tiles. This tradition dates back to the 12th century when the prayer was written in the Pater Noster Church in Hebrew and Greek.
History of the Church of the Pater Noster
In 330AD on the orders of St. Helen, Constantine had a three storey church built over the cave which was thought to be the cave from which Jesus ascended to heaven. Later the Chapel of the Ascension became the agreed site of Jesus’ ascension and the cave remained a Christian pilgrimage site for having been the place where Jesus taught.
The church built by Constantine survived until the Persians left it in ruins, they were followed by the Crusaders who built an oratory on the same site. In 1152 the church was reconstructed on the orders of the Bishop of Denmark who is buried in the church. As the years went by the church of Pater Noster continued to be damaged. In 1874 an Italian princess commissioned the construction of a convent on the site. Years later she got her final wish and was later buried in the church. Although the church had been rebuilt it was only in 1915 that the cave was excavated and a new church based on the original Constantine church began construction above the cave. The church was never completed and so what we see today is only the floor, walls and alter which leads down to a 4th century crypt built in the cave.
Visiting the Church of the Pater Noster
Today visitors to the Church of the Pater Noster can see part of the reconstructed 4th century church and the different sections of the church are distinguishable. It is possible to descend into the actual cave believed to be where Jesus taught. Visitors can also walk around the adjacent garden; see the mosaic floor in the church baptistery and the 62 plaques baring the Lord’s Prayer in the adjacent cloisters.