Yesterday as I mentally re-visited the Pater Noster church on the Mount of Olives, I was drawn to another nearby church called Dominus Flevit. The name means “The Lord wept”. This church was built to commemorate the moment on the first Palm Sunday when the Lord momentarily halted the triumphant procession towards Jerusalem, and wept as he pronounced the dire prophecy over the city, “If only you knew what makes for peace this day – but now it is hidden from your eyes. For the days are coming when your enemies will raise a rampart around you and encircle you on every side. They will smash you to the ground and your children within you, because you did not recognize the time of your visitation” (Luke 19, 41-44)
The present Dominus Flevit church was built in 1955, and was brand new when I visited it in 1962. It is a small church, designed in such a way as to convey the image of a teardrop in its outward structure. In the interior, unlike most churches, the apse is facing West, so that looking at the altar the congregation is looking westward towards the city of Jerusalem.
The wide picture window behind the altar gives a breath-taking panoramic view of the city of Jerusalem. It is an open invitation to try to imagine that Palm Sunday morning when the Lord, from that very spot, looked upon Jerusalem and the Temple in the warm rays of the rising sun, and grieved at the tragic fate that lay in store for them.
The front of the altar is decorated with a mosaic of a hen and her chickens, with the text, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how many times I yearned to gather your children together as a hen gathers her little ones under her wings, but you would not.” (Luke 13, 34)
This chapel also has had a checkered history, beginning with Saint Helena in the 4th century. The 4th century church disappeared, and the site remained vacant until the coming of the Crusaders in the 12th century, when another church was built. After the departure of the Crusaders, the church became a ruin, and so it remained for more than 500 years.
In the 19th century the Franciscans failed in their effort to get ownership of the ruin, but they acquired some property nearby, and built a small church there. In 1953, excavating in order to re-build a boundary wall, the Franciscans made an amazing discovery. The excavations revealed a burial ground, with tombs from the 2nd century BC to the 4th century AD. There were also the ruins of a Byzantine monastery, and a small church to the prophetess Anna (Luke 2, 36-38)
When those excavations were completed in 1955, the present chapel of Dominus Flevit was built. My recollection of the chapel is that it is an architectural gem, a place of silent contemplation, and an occasion of divine love touchingly made visible, showing that God really cares because you could see the tears in his eyes.