Jerusalem, Notre Dame Center

Almost everything is Jerusalem is about history.

Almost everything in Jerusalem is about faith.

Almost everything in Jerusalem is about beauty.

The Notre Dame Center at the end of the Jaffa Road and near the walls of the Old City and the Flowers Gate is no exception. The center hosted the seminar organized by the Forum for Liberal Thinking last weekend which Liliana and me attended.

The history of the Center goes back to the end of the 19th century, when at the time of the end of the Ottoman rule over the Holy Land the European powers of the time were establishing pilgrimage centers, educational and social institutions, and some of them were settling in small communities, trying to establish a presence in the most famous city in history. A Catholic congregation called the French Assumptions started to bring pilgrims and decided to establish a center on land situated near the French Hospital, by the walls of the Old City. Started in 1885 the building was completed and inaugurated in 1904, embellished with a beautiful statue of the Virgin Mary, a replica of a Parisian statue.

Jerusalem Notre Dame Center in the past century

The building could host 500 people, it served as seminar, hostel, and center of studies for almost half a century. In 1948 during the Israel Independence war the area was on the front line of the fights between the Jewish Haganah and the Arab Legion troops. I did a research in the New York Time reports archive and the result was fascinating – between May and August 1948 the control of the building changed several times. The cease fire after the war drew the separation line just near  the building, with the Center in the Israeli area and the Old City in the Jordanian area of the divided city of Jerusalem as it was between 1948 and 1967. The wing facing the Old City was badly damaged in the war, and for some time it was used by the army because of its strategic position.

top of the building with the Virgin Mary statue

Only a few years after the 1967 war the Holy See took over the responsibility of the place, and started the rennovation work that brought the building to its present beauty. A conference center was added, and a modern hotel opened. Since 2004 the care and running of the center was assigned to the Legionaries or Christ priests. Pope Benedict XVI stayed here during his visit last year.

 

conference center

It is a beautiful building by day and also by night, when it is illuminated same as the walls of the Old City on the other side of the street.

Jerusalem Notre Dame Center by night

The interior is decorated in a very special style, with stone walls and arcades reminding the medieval monasteries in Europe. Modern religious paintings are decorating the hallways and the rooms, many of them are really beautiful. The rooms are simple but very clean and well maintained, all the basic equipment that you can find in a good hotel is there. What is missing is the distraction of a TV set (so I could start reading a good book), on the other hand wireless Internet connectivity is available.

hotel reception

hotel hallway - first floor

hallway 3rd floor

There is a chef restaurant in the hotel named ‘La Rotisserie’ – we had lunch there and it was excellent. Try the Latrun Sauvignon Blanc if you are in mood for white wine, it’s good, unexpensive, and you cannot find it in many places in Israel.

La Rotisserie Restaurant

The center has a large and beautiful church.

the church

A permanent exhibition is dedicated to the Shroud of Turin. If you have not seen the documentary or read the National Geographical article a few years ago, or even if you did it it’s a good opportunity to learn more about one of the most venerated and most controversial relics in the history of the Christianity, said to be the burial shroud of Jesus.

Exhibition of the Shroud of Turin

In the reception hall of the center there is another exhibition which deals with the project of the Magdala Center that the same congregation is building on the shores of the Kineret (Sea of Galilee). Our group received explanations (in Hebrew!) from father Kelly. Of Irish origins, he is one of the leaders of the group of priests who live and work in this place. During the construction works an important archeological discovery was made in the place – a synagogue dating from the period before the Jewish revolt in year 66. A menorah representation carved in stone was one of the findings, which is unique for the Jewish synagogues of the period, and may have been a representation of the big menorah in the Temple in Jerusalem.

father Kelly talking about the Magdala Center

from the exhibition about the Magdala Center

History. Faith. Beauty.

Jerusalem.