The German Hospital and Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Ascension form the Augusta Victoria Compound on the northern side of Mount of Olives in East Jerusalem. It was opened in 1910 and named after the wife of German Kaiser Wilhelm II.
Today it is a center for tourists and pilgrims and the church-hospital complex serves the community in East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza Strip. In addition to the church and hospital, there is a kindergarten, café, and a branch of the German Protestant Institute of Archaeology. The complex was founded to serve the German Protestant community of Ottoman Palestine.
History of the Church of the Ascension Compound, Jerusalem
In 1898 the German Kaiser and his wife visited Jerusalem, while there the ruling Ottomans gifted the Kaiser with 8 hectares on the Mount of Olives. The Kaiser commissioned the construction of a hostel for German pilgrims. The royal couple returned for the officially inaugurated in 1910, although construction was only completed in 1914.
During WWI, from 1915 to 1917 the hospital compound became the headquarters of the German-Turkish General Staff, and the hospital treated German soldiers. Following the British victory, the complex became headquarters to General Allenby’s Egyptian Expeditionary Force and from 1917 to 1927, it was the British Mandate headquarters and offices of the High Commissioner.
An earthquake in 1927 left the 60m-high church tower damaged, and it was rebuilt, 10-meters shorter than its original height. In 1928, the compound was returned to the original German owners, the Kaiserin Augusta Victoria Foundation. In the 1930s the Nazi Party held meetings in the compound and the pilgrim guesthouse reopened to Christian visitors but Jewish guests were not welcome.
During World War II the British used the complex as a military hospital. Later, under Jordanian rule, it became a military hospital for the Arab Legion. Throughout 1948-1967 the compound was in the UN-controlled buffer zone of Mount Scopus. In 1948 the compound was placed in the care of the Lutheran World Federation and the hospital was dedicated to treating refugees.
In 1950 the Lutheran World Federation began operating the hospital with the UN Relief and Works Agency. During the 1967 Six-Day War, the compound suffered heavy damage as fighting took place in the compound between the Israelis and Jordanian soldiers. The Six-Day War ended with an Israeli victory and the compound became part of unified Jerusalem.
The church stands at the highest point in Jerusalem and was built in the Wilhelminian-Byzantine style. The church was the first building in Jerusalem to have electricity which was provided by a diesel generator. Inside the church is a pneumatic organ built by the Sauer Company in 1910. The highlight of the interior is the painted ceiling adorned with mosaics, and frescoes. In the apse is a mosaic representing Christ ascending to heaven.
Every surface in the church appears to be painted or glowing with mosaics depicting biblical scenes as well as images of Emperor Wilhelm II and Empress Auguste Victoria. There is interesting stonework including striped pillars with stones of two different colors and Byzantine designs in the floor masonry. In the church entrance hall, you can see a display of historical items tracing the history of this fascinating compound.
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