It was founded in the 19th
century. This house, which was built on a hill facing the Old City of Jerusalem, stood in an isolated spot at the time; today it is at the very heart of Jewish Jerusalem.
Its founder, Fr. Marie-Alphonse Ratisbonne, urged on by the great demand which led to his school in the Old City, the "Ecce Homo", being filled, and by the fact that it was impossible to receive more pupils there because of lack of space, looked for an appropriate place in order to build a large school. Thus in 1874, after buying the ground from an Orthodox Christian, he began to build Ratisbonne, which progressed well. Fr. Marie-Alphonse asked a Paris architect to draw up the plans for the future establishment, which he wanted to be large and beautiful. Large because he was thinking of the many children who were waiting to be accepted; "beautiful because," as he told his architect, "the ugly is just as expensive as the beautiful; since the school of St. Peter is destined to become a nursery for workers and artists, it is right and proper to let them see a building that will serve as a perpetual example of good taste."
Ratisbonne, which was run by the Religious of Our Lady of Sion, began as a primary school for boys; languages were also taught in the school: French, English, Arabic and Hebrew; professional teaching was added which included up to 18 areas of skills. The house was meant to serve the local population; the spirit animating it was one of welcome to all: Jews, Christian and Muslim Arabs, and all of these children could study there until 1948.
Following the creation of the State of Israel, the Ratisbonne house progressively became a study center for Christians interested in Jewish studies. In 1970, in accord with the Catholic Church''s teaching on the importance of Jewish studies for Christians, Ratisbonne opened up more particularly for teaching, which took on international and ecumenical dimensions.
So as to ensure the duration and further development of the Christian Center of Jewish Studies at Ratisbonne, the Congregation of the Religious of Our Lady of Sion in 1984 gave the Holy See its Ratisbonne property, on condition that the Holy See commit itself to ensuring its life and prosperity, as stated in the legal contract. The Institut Catholique in Paris was given the academic responsibility for the institute. The Religious of Sion always remained involved in the center''s functioning, but without assuming direct responsibility for it.
In 1998, the study center became a Pontifical Institute, but three years later, in 2001, the Congregation for Catholic Education decreed unilaterally that the Pontifical Center of Jewish Studies at Ratisbonne be closed. However, according to the agreement made with the Holy See in 1984, the Religious of Our Lady of Sion kept a part of the Ratisbonne building for themselves as their living quarters and for community activities.
Thus, the Congregation of the Religious of Our Lady of Sion has again set up its library on its premises at Saint Peter of Sion - Ratisbonne. The library specializes in Jewish studies; the space includes room for teaching, in continuity with activities corresponding to its vocation, in relationship with the Jewish people, and in accord with the directives of the Catholic Church since the Second Vatican Council.