Saint Pelagia on the Mt. of Olives

Just next to the Chapel of the Ascension on the Mount of Olives is the House of Pelagia, a known figure in the Christian World. Who is she and just how did she get to Jerusalem?

Next to the Chapel of the Ascension on the Mount of Houses is a small mosque, at the end of which is a small somewhat buried grave with the word "sarcophagus" written on it in Greek.

Throughout the 17th century a small mosque was built on top of this grave. The famous French archeologist Da Sussey uncovered the sarcophagus in the 19th century and noted the following Greek pagan expression written on the sarcophagus: "Adopt Demetila, man is not immortal."

According to Jewish tradition, this is the grave of the prophetess Hulda who is written about in the Old Testament during the time of King Josiah of the 7th century B.C.E. The source of this tradition and the placement of this grave are based on the writings of Rabbi Moshe Basulah, who visited Jerusalem in the 16th century, and on Ishtori Haparchi's 14th century work "Bulb and Flower" (a play on the writer's name which in French is "the Florentine" and in Hebrew "flower"). According to the Tosefta, the prophetess is buried to the south of the Temple Mount, thus the name of the southern gates of the old city "Hulda Gates." Up to the 19th century, the Jews had a tradition to climb to this grave, though no one is certain of the exact location.

According to Muslim tradition, Rava'ad Aludayah is buried here, a prophetess among the early Muslim mystics in the 7th century C.E. According to the Christian tradition, this is the burial site of Saint Pelagia, born in Antiochus in the 5th century C.E. Pelagia was an elite prostate who was also a singer and a dancer. She engaged in licentious behaviors and was apparently much in demand among gentleman even across the sea. It is told that because she was so in demand, Pelagia could allow herself to carefully choose her companions. It is told that men would commit suicide because they were not chosen to come into her good graces.

It was a bright day that she happened to come across the bishop Saint Nonnus during a speech. He told of the expected punishment for sinners in the world to come. Pelagia, who up to this point was a pagan and not interested in the spiritual path, began to weep and told the bishop her life story. "I am Pelagia and I am a sea of sins - I walked myself and others along the path of sin - but from this point on I plan to renounce this behavior and walk in the righteous path." After a full week of listening to the bishop speak, Pelagia was baptized; eight days later she took on a new spiritual path of faith and began the next chapter in her life.

Pelagia considered how she could be atoned for her terrible sins and decided to give all of her riches and possessions to the poor. After this she took off in the direction of Jerusalem dressed as a man so no one would recognize her.

At the end of her journey, Pelagia reached the Mount of Olives and there she lived until the end of her life. She lived an ascetic life and prayed most of the time. Her story reached all the way to Antiochus, the city of her birth, as the story of an ascetic monk who was honest and uncorrupted. The Bishop Nonnus, who was unsure about whom the story was told, decided to send a messenger to this Jerusalem monk. The messenger was deeply impressed with Pelagia, returned to Antiochus and told the old bishop about the personality and life of the monk (Pelagia was still dressed as a man) and invited him/her to Antiochus.

The messenger then returned again to await Pelagia for three days, hiding in her lonely cell in Jerusalem. After the three days, the messenger discovered that the monk had died and many other monks from the area came to mourn the death of this noble man.

Only after preparing the body for burial did the local monks discover that Pelagia was actually a woman. In order not to desecrate the body, they brought other female monks from the Jericho area to take care of the corpse and properly prepare her.

In Christian tradition, the cafe that is in the heart of the mosque on the Mount of Olives is considered as the grave of the holy monk Saint Pelagia.