The convent of the Sisters of Zion

About this place

The Ecce Homo arch spans the route right at the beginning of the Via Dolorosa (the Way of the Cross). It was believed to be the place where Pontius Pilate pointed to Jesus and said “Behold the man” (John 19:5) Prior to the building of the convent of the Sisters of Zion, when the ruins were cleared and the entire arch exposed, it proved to be part of a triple arch.
Alphonse Ratisbonne, co-founder of the Congregation of Our Lady of Zion, purchased the land on which the arch stood and between 1858 and 1862 built a basilica, an orphanage for girls, and a convent which was enlarged when the nuns purchased a number of the surrounding Arab homes. At present the convent maintains a guesthouse and library as well as the restored archeological finds which are open to the public. Excavations of the street at the base of the arches revealed a pavement, Lithostratos, with numerous engravings on the paving stones. Christian pilgrims can stop here for contemplation and a prayer reading at one of the many altars available The pavement was part of the Roman city, Aelia Capitolina, built in the second century on the ruins of Jerusalem which had been destroyed by the Romans, together with the Second Temple, in 70CE. The arch is   probably the victory arch built by the emperor Hadrian to celebrate his success in quelling the Bar Kochba revolt in 135 CE.

The two arches have been incorporated into the church in the convent with one of the arches framing the altar. The pavement is thought to have been the courtyard of the Praetorium where Jesus was tried by Pilate. There are a number of engravings on the flagstones, some of them games the Roman soldiers may have played.
The pavement on which we walk was also built in the second century and is part of the vault covering the Herodian reservoir below. According to the Roman Jewish historian, Josephus Flavius, this pool was known as the Struthion pool. Originally part of the Hasmonean water system of Jerusalem, it may later have served the Antonia fortress which was on the northern corner of the Temple Mount. On entering the Sisters of Zion convent one passes a number of grottoes before descending to the enormous cistern now covered by the street above. The cistern itself is divided by a brick wall the other side of which is visible when one exits the Western Wall tunnel walk and which clearly shows how it is part of the Herodian water system of Second Temple Jerusalem.

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