Gate of Mercy, or Golden Gate as Christians call it, is one of the gates to the Old City of Jerusalem.
It is one of only two gates that used to offer access into the city from that side. However, the gate has been walled up since medieval times.
According to Josephus, this gate was considered within the far northeastern extremity of the inner sacred court.
In addition, according to the Mishnah, there was formerly a road which led out of the Temple Mount into the Kidron valley and to the Mount of Olives.
This gate was not used by the masses to enter the Temple Mount, but reserved for the High Priest on Yom Kippur.
The date of its construction is disputed and no archaeological work is allowed at the gatehouse, but opinions are shared between a late Byzantine and an early Umayyad date.
In the Mishnah (Middot 1:3), the eastern gate of the second Temple compound is called the Shushan Gate.
If the Gate of Mercy does mark the location of the Shushan Gate, this would make it the oldest of the current gates in Jerusalem’s Old City Walls.
According to Jewish tradition, the Shekhinah, or Divine Presence, used to appear through the eastern Gate, and will appear again when the Messiah comes (Ezekiel 44:1–3) and a new gate replaces the present one.
This might why Jews used to pray in medieval times for mercy at the former gate at this location.
Another possible reason being that in the Crusader period, when this habit was first documented, they were not allowed into the city where the Western Wall is located.
Hence the name “Gate of Mercy.”
The present gate is believed by many to have built in the 520s AD, as part of Justinian I’s building program in Jerusalem, on top of the ruins of the earlier gate in the wall.
Another theory is that it was built in the later part of the 7th century by Byzantine artisans employed by the Umayyad khalifs.
When building the walls around the Old City, Suleiman included the gate, however, he closed them 1541 and at some point it was transformed into a watchtower.
One thought is that Suleiman may have taken this decision purely for defensive reasons.
However, since there is a Jewish tradition that this is the gate through which the Messiah, it is possible that he sealed off the gate to prevent a false Messiah coming through entrance.
The Ottomans also built a cemetery in front of the gate to prevent a false, Prophet Elijah – who is supposed to announce the arrival of the Messiah – from passing through the gate.
This is because, according to Islamic teaching Elijah is a descendant of Aaron, making him a priest or kohen, and knowing that a Jewish kohen is not permitted to enter a cemetery.
However, a Kohen is permitted to enter a cemetery in which either Jews or non-Jews are buried, such as the one outside the Golden Gate, as long as certain laws or Halakha regarding purity are followed.