The Roman Catholic Convent of the Sisters of Zion marks the location of an important event in the Passion of Christ. It stands between the 1st and 2nd Station of the Cross along the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem’s Old City. The Gospel of John describes how Christ was given a crown of thorns and a purple robe then presented to the crowd by Pontius Pilate who addressed the people saying “behold the man” (Ecce Homo in Latin). Pilate’s speech gives its name to the stone arch that curves over the Via Dolorosa. It is the central arch of a 2nd-century triple-arched gateway. The southern arch no longer exists but the northern arch continues through the wall into the convent’s Ecce Homo Church where it forms a backdrop to the altar.
Establishment of the Convent of the Sisters of Zion
Marie-Alphonse Ratisbonne was a Jewish convert to Catholicism and co-founder of the Congregation of Notre-Dame de Sion, a religious order dedicated to reconciliation between Jews and Christian. In 1857 Ratisbonne purchased land in Jerusalem’s Old City to build a convent for the Congregation of Notre-Dame de Sion. The convent was built between 1858 and 1862 incorporating the northern section of the ancient archway into the convent’s church. The convent complex included an orphanage, hospice, medical dispensary, and school for girls that was attended by girls from across the region. The girls' school continued to operate until 1967 when it was repurposed to house a library and the Ecce Homo Pilgrim House. The complex also houses a branch of Chemin Neuf, a Catholic ecumenical community focused on the unity of multiple Christian denominations.
Archaeological Treasures of the Convent of the Sisters of Zion
Originally a Hasmonean (2nd century BC) canal ran through this area, providing water to the Temple on Temple Mount. Herod the Great (King of Judea 39 BC - 4 BC) turned the canal into a moat around the Fortress Antonia and dug a reservoir into the moat. The 54mX14m Struthion Pool was one of a chain of open-air reservoirs providing water to the city. In 135 AD Hadrian covered Herod’s rock-hewn pool with a vaulted ceiling and created a cistern. Above the cistern, he built the triple-arched Ecce Homo Archway as a triumphant arch and grand entrance to the forum, or market place of his new city, Aelia Capitolina. Hadrian had the forum paved with flagstones.
Lithostrotos in the Convent of the Sisters of Zion
The Roman flagstones run beneath the Sisters of Zion Convent and the nearby churches of Flagellation and Condemnation. Here bored Roman guards passed their time playing dice games on marks scratched into the flagstones. An engraved crown with the letter B for basileus (Greek for king) was found on the flagstones beneath the convent. This supports the belief that it was the site of Christ’s judgment as referred to in John 19:13 as the “stone pavement” (Gabbatha or Lithostrotos). If Hadrian brought stones from Herod’s destroyed 1st century BC fortress to pave his forum then Christ's Judgement may have happened at a different location, but for now, the archway remains the traditional site.
Visiting the Convent of the Sisters of Zion
Just beyond the impressive Ecce Homo Arch step off the Via Dolorosa and visit the Convent of the Sisters of Zion. Take a few moments to contemplate the events that took place here 2,000 years ago, Christ’s suffering, and his final walk through the aggressive crowd to his crucifixion. In the Convent of the Sisters of Zion see the authentic Roman flagstone paving, the Lithostratos and in the Ecce Homo Church see the magnificent Roman arch.