Dir A-Sultan is an Ethiopian monastery on the roof of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. At the center of the roof stands a silver dome. This dome is located exactly on top of the Chapel of St. Helena- the chapel in which, according to the Christian tradition, the True Cross was found in the 4th century by Empress Helena. The surrounding walls bear remnants of capitals and arches from the crusader era, during which the compound served as a dining room and an internal courtyard for the monks of the Augustine Canonical order.
The courtyard is surrounded by small huts that house the Ethiopian monks. The monks named the compound “Dir A-Sultan”, which means “the king’s monastery”. The said sultan is King Solomon, who is considered the progenitor of the Ethiopian royal dynasty, symbolized by the lion of Judah.
According to the Ethiopian book of kings, following Queen Sheba’s visit to King Solomon, she gave birth to a son named Manelik. Manelik visited his father in Jerusalem, and when he returned to Ethiopia he brought with him the Ark of the Covenant, which is kept to this day in a special chapel in Axum, Ethiopia. Christianity established itself in Ethiopia in the 4th century and preserved certain Jewish customs such as the Sabbath and circumcision. A number of Ethiopian buildings were built in the center of Jerusalem during the 19th century, among them a consulate and a church, and in 1936 the exiled Emperor Haile Selassie lived in Jerusalem.
The monks live, as mentioned above, in small huts that form a sort of a small Ethiopian village on the roof. They do not, however, renovate the compound due to ownership struggles versus their Coptic neighbors over this place. The olive tree in the courtyard is sacred, believed to be the bush in which the deer’s horns were caught during the Binding of Isaac.
From here one can descend to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, via two praying chapels which also belong to the Ethiopian church and are at the heart of the dispute with the Coptic Church. In the upper chapel- the Chapel of the “Four Creatures”, there is a painting of Queen Sheba’s visit to King Solomon. The artist sought to depict “authentic Jews”, and therefore Solomon’s entourage are dressed as ultra-orthodox Jews…the lower chapel is known as “the Chapel of the Archangel Michael”.