The Tel Aviv daily Maariv has published a report which, if confirmed, would signify a major milestone in the history of Christianity. Within a few months the state of Israel may grant custody of the Upper Room, where Jesus celebrated the Last Supper with his apostles, to the Catholic Church.

The EFE News Agency published a version of the story, quoting sources within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and claiming the eventual agreement between Israeli authorities and the Holy See would be part of “extensive negotiations to resolve other problems, including residencies for Church personnel, who in many cases recently have run into obstacles from the Interior Ministry in the obtaining of visas.”

Maariv quoted an anonymous government official who said “this time it seems that the intention of the government is set out on a new path with the Holy See.”

Maariv cites “Christian sources” which claim the Israeli ambassador to the Vatican, Obed Ben Hur, and representatives of the Holy See, could reach an agreement before the end of the year.

As of today’s date, neither the Holy See nor the Israeli government have confirmed or denied the report.

The Upper Room

The history behind the building in which the Upper Room is located reflects the complex history of the region.  During the Middle Ages, the Franciscans made it their first monastery in the Holy Land, but they were expelled by the Ottomans in 1551.  They in turn built a mosque in the area, saying it was the site of the tomb of King David, who Moslems consider a prophet.

A niche that indicates the way to Mecca is still there from when it was mosque.

Later the building was acquired by an Arabic family until in 1967 it was seized by the Israeli Ministry of Worship.  Currently it houses a Jewish school and a synagogue.

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For the Church the building has an incomparable importance, as it was the place where the priesthood and the Sacraments of the Eucharist and of Penance were instituted.  Historically the Popes have believed that “if there is a place in this world where the Mass should be celebrated it is in the Upper Room.”

The title in Latin for the place where Christ met with his apostles on Holy Thursday, "Coenaculum" (“Cenacle” in English), means the place for supper, but in general refers to the upper room that was used for hospitality for guests.  Today the room is a chapel.

The Christian tradition concerning the authenticity of the Upper Room goes back to the 3rd century.   A chapel dedicated to the washing of feet is also located nearby.  The Franciscan cloister of 1335 leads to the Shoah Museum, in memory of the victims of the Holocaust.

Mass in the Upper Room

In 2000, Pope John Paul II visited the Holy Land and in one of the most anticipated moments of his pilgrimage, he celebrated a private Mass in the Upper Room.  Until the papal visit, only personal prayers were allowed to take place in the Upper Room.

Not even Paul VI, who visited the chapel and prayed in private, was able to celebrate Mass.  

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That year, shortly after the Pope celebrated his historic Mass in the place of the Last Supper, various international media outlets reported that supposed negotiations on the custody of the Upper Room had begun.

The Italian news agency ANSA reported then that the Vatican would obtain custody with the condition that the historic church of Santa Maria la Blanca in Toledo, Spain, would be given to the Jews.  The church had been a synagogue until Ferdinand and Isabel seized it from the Jewish community.