Mount of Olives
Community ID
 
4994
 
Alternate Names
 
Olivet
 
Town
 
Jerusalem
 
Modern Location
 
The Mount of Olives is part of East Jerusalem and is administered by Israel.
 
Date Founded
 
The Mount of Olives is considered a holy place in both the Jewish and Christian traditions. It is unknown when monasteries were first constructed on the mountain, although this likely began in the fourth century.
 
Congregation
 
Multiple
 
Foundation Information
 

Believed to be the spot of Jesus’ crucifixion and ascension, the Mount of Olives was home to a number of monasteries and hermits’ cells. By the end of the fourth century, the Mount of Olives was home to three churches, the Church of the Eleona (founded by Constantine), the Church of Gethsemane, and the church of the Ascension (founded by Poemenia) (Commentary, The Life of Melania the Younger, p. 115).

In the 370s, NULL and Rufinus were among the first to establish monasteries on Olivet. At the end of the fourth century, a woman named Euphemia headed a convent on the holy mountain (Commentary, The Life of Melania the Younger, p. 115; The Tombstone Inscription in the Church of Mary's Tomb at Gethsemane). In the early fifth century, the reformed actress Pelagia withdrew to a cell on the Mt. of Olives (Legenden der heiligen Pelagia, ch. 12, 14).

NULL was responsible for the construction of two monasteries, one for females and the other for males, as well as a chapel and a martyrium. First, Melania constructed a small cell in which she could live. The Life of Melania the Younger tells us “Melania asked her holy mother to have a little cell built for her near the Mount of Olives, with its interior made from boards, where she might dwell peacefully in the near future” (37). Once the cell was finished, “after the day of Holy Epiphany, she shut herself in, and sat in sackcloth and ashes, seeing nobody, with the exception that on some days she met with her very holy mother and her spiritual brother. Her cousin, the blessed woman Paula, also came to see her… Melania lived in this kind of ascetic regime for 14 years” (40).

Next, she built a monastery for women on the Mount of Olives. The date of this construction, as well as of the hut mentioned above, is uncertain. A group of approximately 90 virgins gathered around Melania, and she supplied for their needs. But Melania would not accept the role of superior in the Monastery. She chose another woman to be superior, and Melania aided her in caring for the nun’s physical needs. When the superior was too unbending with the weaker sisters, Melania would secretly bring them food and nourishment, hiding it under their bed (The Life of Melania the Younger, ch. 41). Melania was concerned that the nuns not associate with men. For this reason, she had a cistern built in the monastery. The Latin Vita reports that she also procured funds for the construction of a bath complex inside the monastery in 431 from Lausus, the ex-prepositus of Constantinople (Commentary, The Life of Melania the Younger, p. 116). Melania also built an oratory in the monastery and had an altar erected in it. She arranged for the sisters to accomplish two Eucharistic sacrifices each week on Friday and Saturday; they also celebrated feast days together. In the oratory, she placed the relics of the holy martyrs, including Zechariah, Stephen, the 40 martyrs of Sebaste, and others (The Life of Melania the Younger, ch. 48).

Around the year 431 or 432, she built a chapel called the “Aposteleion” in which she enclosed her husband Pinian’s remains. She may also have relocated her mother Albina’s remains there as well. Around 435 or 436, she began construction of a monastery for men. Towards the end of her life, after she returned from Constantinople, she built a martyrium dedicated to the empress Eudocia in which she placed the relics of St. Stephen (Commentary, The Life of Melania the Younger, p. 116-118).

Gerontius said mass every Sunday for the men’s and women’s cloisters. It is unclear whether these masses and religious practice in general in Melania the Younger’s monasteries were distinctly “Western.” The Life of Peter the Iberian reports that Gerontius held a private service for Melania every day, but Clark associates this more with Melania’s wealth and reclusive religious practices rather than a distinctly Roman tradition of private liturgies (The lives of Peter the Iberian, Theodosius of Jerusalem, and the Monk Romanus; Commentary and Notes, The Life of Melania the Younger, p. 124, 227; ).

Around 530, Theodosius the Deacon counts 24 churches and monasteries on the Mt. of Olives. He mentions a woman’s monastery that may possibly be associated with Melania the Younger. In it, there was a cistern and sanctuary built over a cave. The women received food through a hole in a wall (Notes, The Life of Melania the Younger, p. 223).

 
Notable Members/Residents/Guests
  
Population Counts
 

In the early- to mid-fifth century, Melania the Younger's monastery housed 90 virgins.

 
Architecture & Archaeology
 

Vincent and Abel suggest that remains of marbles, a Corinthian capital, and a mosaic-paved basin with inscription found below the Eleona should be associated with Melania the Elder and Rufinus’ foundations. (Jérusalem nouvelle. Fascicule 1 et 2, Aelia Capitolina, le Saint-Sepulcre et le Mont des Oliviers, p. 389). In addition, they have identified the site of Melania the Younger’s monastery for women located to the east and the south of the Eleona (Notes, The Life of Melania the Younger, 221).

 
Relics
 

In the oratory of Melania the Younger's monastery, the relics of the holy martyrs, including Zechariah, Stephen, the 40 martyrs of Sebaste, and others were displayed. Once she built her martyrium dedicated to the empress Eudocia, she placed the relics of St. Stephen in it.

 
Contributors
 
Dina Boero