He [Roman emperor Constantine I] took in hand here other sites venerated for their two mystic caves, and he adorned these also with rich artwork. On the cave of the first divine manifestation of the Saviour, where he submitted to the experience of birth in the flesh, he bestowed appropriate honours; while at the other he dignified the monument on the mountain-top to his ascension into heaven. These also he artistically honoured, perpetuating the memory of his own mother, who had bestowed so much good on human life.
This lady, when she made it her business to pay what piety owed to the all-sovereign God, and considered that she ought to complete in prayers her thank-offerings for her son, so great an Emperor, and his sons the most Godbeloved Caesars her grandchildren, came, though old, with the eagerness of youth to apply hew outstanding intellect to enquiring about the wondrous land and to inspect with imperial concern the eastern provinces with their communities and peoples. As she accorded suitable adoration to the footsteps of the Saviour, following the prophetic word which says, 'Let us adore in the place where his feet have stood', she forthwith bequeathed to her successors also the fruit of her personal piety.
She immediately consecrated to the God she adored two shrines, one by the cave of his birth, the other on the mountain of the ascension. For the God with us allowed himself to suffer even birth for our sake, and the place of his birth was announced among the Hebrews by the name of Bethlehem. Thus then the most devout Empress beautified the Godbearer's pregnancy with wondrous monuments, in various way embellishing the sacred cave there. The Emperor himself shortly afterwards honoured this too with imperial dedications, supplementing his mother's works of art with treasures of silver and gold and embroidered curtains.
Again the Emperor's mother erected on the Mount of Olives the monument of the journey into heaven of the Saviour on the Universe in lofty buildings; up by the ridges at the peak of the whole mountain she raised the sacred house of the church, and constructed just there a shrine for prayer to the Saviour who chose to spend his time on that spot, since just there a true report maintains that in that cave the Saviour of the Universe initiated the members of his guild in ineffable mysteries. There also the Emperor bestowed all kinds of offerings and ornaments on the great King.
These then were the two everlasting memorable, noble and utterly beautiful dedications to her Saviour at two mystic caves, which Helena Augusta, the Godbeloved mother of the Godbeloved Emperor, founded as tokens of her pious intent, her son providing her with the right arm of imperial authority.
The Chapel of the Ascension is a shrine located on the Mount of Olives, in the At-Tur district of Jerusalem. Part of a larger complex consisting first of a Christian church and monastery, then an Islamic mosque, it is located on a site the faithful traditionally believe to be the earthly spot where Jesus ascended into Heaven forty days after his resurrection. It houses a slab of stone believed to contain one of his footprints.
Shortly after the death and resurrection of Jesus, early Christians began gathering in secret to commemorate his Ascension at a small cave on the Mount of Olives. The issuance of the Edict of Milan by the Roman Emperor Constantine I in 313 made it possible for Christians to worship overtly without fear of government persecution. Saint Helena, mother of Constantine I, traveled to the holy land 325-326. There she identified two spots on the Mount of Olives as being associated with Jesus' life. The place of his Ascension, and a grotto associated with his teaching of the Lord's Prayer.
The first complex constructed on the site of the present chapel was known as Imbomon. It was a rotunda, open to the sky, surrounded by circular porticos and arches. In 390 AD, Poimenia, a wealthy and pious Roman aristocratic woman of the imperial family financed the addition of a Byzantine style church at the site of Helena's original construction. The second sanctuary at this location, also Byzantine in design, was called "Eleona Basilica". This shrine was built on the sacred grotto where Jesus is said to have taught his disciples to pray the Our Father. The original 4th century church, known today as the Church of the Pater Noster was partially reconstructed in the early 20th century but remains unfinished. Most of these churches and their surrounding structures were destroyed by the armies of the Persian Shah Khosrau II during the final phase of the Byzantine-Sassanid Wars in 614.
It was subsequently rebuilt in the late 7th century. The Frankish bishop and pilgrim Arculf, in relating his pilgrimage to Jerusalem in about the year 680, described this church as "a round building open to the sky, with three porticoes entered from the south. Eight lamps shone brightly at night through windows facing Jerusalem. Inside was a central edicule containing the footprints of Christ, plainly and clearly impressed in the dust, inside a railing." The reconstructed church was eventually destroyed, and rebuilt a second time by the Crusaders in the 12th-century. This final church was eventually destroyed by the armies of Salah ad-Din, leaving only a partially intact outer 12x12 meter octagonal wall surrounding an inner 3x3 meter shrine, also octagonal, called a martyrium or edicule. This structure still stands today.
After the fall of Jerusalem in 1187 the ruined church and monastery were abandoned by the Christians, who resettled in Acre. During this time Salah ad-Din established the Mount of Olives as a waqf entrusted to two sheikhs, al-Salih Wali al-Din and Abu Hasan al-Hakari. This donation was registered in a document dated 20 October 1188. The chapel was converted to a mosque, and a mihrab installed in it. Because the vast majority of pilgrims to the site were Christian, as a gesture of compromise and goodwill Salah ad-Din ordered the construction, two years later, of a second mosque nearby for Muslim worship while Christians continued to visit the main chapel. Also around this time the complex was fortified with towers, walls, and guarded by watchman. The shrine and surrounding structures saw periods of non-use and disrepair over the next 300 years. By the 15th century the destroyed eastern section of the octagonal outer wall was separated from the rest by a dividing wall and was occupied by peasant houses and animal stables. Though still under the authority of the Islamic Waqf of Jerusalem, the edicule-turned-mosque is currently opened to visitors of all faiths, for a nominal fee.
The status quo of the Holy Land sites is an understanding between religious communities with respect to nine shared religious sites in Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Other Holy Places in Israel and Palestine were not deemed subject to the Status Quo because the authorities of one religion or of one community within a religion are in recognized or effective possession.
It resulted from a firman (decree) of Ottoman Sultan Osman III in the 18th century that preserved the division of ownership and responsibilities of various sites important to Christians, Muslims, and Jews to their then-current holders or owners, and represented agreements among the various religions that nothing could be changed from the way it was without upsetting the balance of order in maintaining the religious sites for visits by pilgrims. The actual provisions of the status quo were never formally established in a single document, but the 1929 summary prepared by Lionel George Archer Cust, a civil servant of the British Mandate, The Status Quo in the Holy Places, became the standard text on the subject.
When the Greeks launched a Palm Sunday takeover of various Holy Land sites in 1757 the Ottomans subsequently upheld this status quo.
This status quo for Jerusalem meant that certain statuses for the Holy Sites would be kept and were recognized as being permanent or at least the way things should be. The city was divided into four quarters. The Temple Mount became a Muslim holy place, and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre as well as other various Christian sites were recognized as belonging to the Christian world. Despite the arguments over who would control what aspects of these sites, the status quo has remained largely intact from the 18th century to the present. Although claims that this status quo was being violated led to the 1929 Palestine riots, it has not been changed, and the quarters and areas remain roughly as they have been inside Suleiman's walls.
A further 1853 decree, in the wake of the events leading to the Crimean War, solidified the existing territorial division among the communities and set a status quo for arrangements to "remain forever", caused differences of opinion about upkeep and even minor changes, including disagreement on the removal of an exterior ladder under one of the windows; this ladder has remained in the same position since then.
Under the status quo, no part of what is designated as common territory may be so much as rearranged without consent from all communities. This often leads to the neglect of badly needed repairs when the communities cannot come to an agreement among themselves about the final shape of a project. Just such a disagreement has delayed the renovations of most pilgrimage sites, and also where any change in the structure might result in a change to the status quo, disagreeable to one or more of the communities.
The Status Quo applies to nine sites in Jerusalem and Bethlehem:
Church of the Holy Sepulchre and its dependencies, Jerusalem
Deir Es-Sultan, Jerusalem
Chapel of the Ascension, Jerusalem
Tomb of the Virgin Mary, Jerusalem
Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem
Chapel of the Milk Grotto, Bethlehem
Chapel of the Shepherd's Field, Bethlehem
Western Wall, Jerusalem
Rachel's Tomb, Bethlehem