The proposals, contained in a draft agreement between the Israeli Government and the Vatican, come on the eve of a state visit to the Vatican next month by President Katzav. Final details on a long-delayed accord on the status of Roman Catholic properties in the Holy Land are expected to be agreed during the visit, marking a new era of reconciliation between Christians and Jews after centuries of hostility.
The Upper Room, where the Last Supper is said to have taken place, is held by Christians to be the place where Jesus broke bread and drank wine with the disciples on the eve of his Crucifixion and also where the Holy Spirit descended on the disciples at Pentecost.
The Last Supper has become an iconic Christian image, painted most famously by Leonardo. The Room of the Last Supper is the fourth most holy place in Christendom after the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, built over Christ?s tomb, the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth, where the Virgin Mary was told by an angel she was to give birth, and the Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem, where the birth took place.
The present Gothic-arched room is not the original but was built by the Crusaders in the 14th century. It was taken over in 1342 by the Franciscans, the Catholic custodians of Christian sites in the Holy Land.
Along with the rest of Jerusalem, it fell to the Ottoman Turks in the 16th century and was transformed into a mosque, whose Arabic inscriptions are still visible. Since the foundation of Israel the area has served as the site of Jewish yeshivas, or religious schools, since Jews believe that the Tomb of King David lies beneath the spot.
Il Messaggero, the Rome daily, said possible reciprocal gestures include the return to Jewish control of the 12th-century synagogue in Toledo, which, after the suppression of Judaism in Spain in the 15th century, became the Church of Santa Mar?a La Blanca.
A synod of bishops in the Vatican, the first to be held by Pope Benedict, is currently discussing issues related to the Eucharist, or Holy Communion.
The renewed Christian-Jewish dialogue comes on the 40th anniversary of Nostra Aetate, the Second Vatican Council document which condemned anti-Semitism and paved the way for the establishment of diplomatic relations between Israel and the Vatican in 1993.
The German-born Pope has reached out to Jews as well as Muslims since his election in April, and in August visited the Cologne synagogue.
The Upper Room is in a building outside the Dormition Abbey behind the Franciscan house on Mount Zion in Jerusalem King David?s Tomb is believed to be at the base of the building
It is thought to also be the scene of Jesus? appearance before the Apostles after the Resurrection and the descent of the Holy Spirit upon them at Pentecost.
The building was the seat of the Mother Church of Jerusalem for many years, and was a Franciscan medieval friary until 1561. The room was later turned into a mosque, as shown by the mihrab (niche set in the wall indicating the direction of Mecca) and Arabic inscription forbidding public prayer at the site.
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