The Dome of the Rock is one of the world’s most well known and oldest displays of Islamic architecture. The shrine was originally built on the Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem the year 691 AD, and has a long and rich history that intersects Islam, Judaism, and Catholicism. While today it functions as an Islamic shrine with limited access to non-Muslims, most don’t know that long ago the Dome of the Rock used to be a Catholic church.
Up until the First Crusade, the Dome of the Rock, the Dome of the Chain, and the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount were under Islamic Control. On July 15th, 1099 Jerusalem fell to the First Crusaders. When they entered the city, they found that all the buildings from the time of Byzantine rule on the Temple Mount had fallen, and only the three remained enclosed by a set of wrought iron gates. Once the city was completely under Crusader rule, they quickly turned care of the Dome of the Rock over to the Augustinian Canons Regular who converted the building into a Catholic church. After its conversion, the Dome of the Rock was regularly used to celebrate Mass and other church services.
In the early Crusader tradition, the Dome of the Rock was said to house the Ark of the Covenant in a sealed reliquary. To show proper reverence, they named it the Templum Domini, or Temple of the Lord. However, in its later years the Temple of the Lord shifted focus away from the relics housed there and more towards the Divine Presence, to the Holy of Holies.
Crusaders in Jerusalem attributed many historical and biblical events to the Dome of the Rock. Within the building is a stone pillow believed to be the resting place of Jacob when he dreamt of the ladder climbed by the Lord’s angels. They attribute the Divine Presence associated with the Dome of the Rock to this, because when Jacob awoke from his sleep he said, “Truly, the LORD is in this place and I did not know it!” Within the building is a small cave that crusaders called the “Sanctuary of the Lord.” They thought the cave to be the place where the angel Gabriel announced the conception of Saint John the Baptist to his father. They also thought the cave was where Jesus Christ absolved the adulteress of her sins. Because of this, the cave became a popular pilgrimage site during its occupation where one could come and confess their sins.
After a few decades of Crusader rule when they became more financially able, the Dome of the Rock was decorated in intricate and ornate ways. The actual rock within the Dome was covered in marble and turned into an altar, with a screen erected around it save for one face to prevent people from chipping stone away to sell. Inside and out of the building mosaics were created depicting scenes and stories from the Bible. The most lavish of all was a golden cross hoisted to the top of the dome. When Saladin retook Jerusalem in 1187, his first action was ordering the cross be removed.