The Mount Of Olives PDF Print E-mail
Written by Stephen Langfur
Article Index
The Mount Of Olives
City Of David
Solomon to Herod
Pater Noster Church


geths-tree-basim.jpgAfter eating his Last Supper in the city, Jesus and eleven disciples crossed the Kidron Valley. The monumental tombs we see there today (the cone-topped "Absalom's monument" and its neighbors) would have glowed in the light of the full Passover moon; these grand tombs were then recent by Jerusalem standards: none older than 200 years.

They went "to the Mount of Olives," say Matthew, Mark and Luke, and the first two add, "to a place named Gethsemane." They went to the "other side" of the Kidron Valley, says John 18:1, "where there was a garden, in which He entered with His disciples."

For as long as we know, Christians have located the site at the foot of the Mt. of Olives on the other side of the Kidron Valley: a location that fits all four gospels.

Near the intersection between the busy valley road and the one that comes down from the mountain (a good candidate for the Palm Sunday route), we go down a flight of steps and find, next to Mary's tomb, a cave (or "grotto"). This may have been the site of the "olive press" to which the name Gethsemane refers (in Hebrew gat shmanim, "press of oils"). Tradition holds that this is the cave where Jesus left the eight, going a little farther with Peter, John and James. He then rejoined them. Here Judas found him, followed by the local authorities, and betrayed him with a kiss.

Just up the hill from the cave, on the right, we find the entrance to the official Garden of Gethsemane. Around 380 AD, Christians built a church here, identifying a piece of bedrock as the place of Jesus' prayer. This must have been the "elegant church" that was new when the nun Egeria saw it. On Holy Thursday night, she wrote, "at the first cock's crow one descends [from the top of the mountain], singing hymns, to the place where the Lord prayed, as it stands in the Gospel: 'And he went a stone's throw away and prayed, etc.' In this place stands an elegant church." After the prayer, the hymn and the reading from the Gospel, she continues, "everyone, down to the smallest children, made the descent with the bishop to the foot, to Gethsemane," where they then read the passage describing "the Lord's arrest." Egeria's "Gethsemane" would have been the cave: it is indeed farther down, and a stone's throw away.

In the successor to Egeria's "elegant church," the exposed bedrock is also the focus of the modern structure (built in 1924). The altar is of a limestone streaked with red, remembering the sweat that fell from Jesus like drops of blood (Luke 22:44 ). The alabaster in the windows keeps the inside rather dark, for the events occurred at night.


Under glass panels in the south aisle, we can still see bits of the first mosaic floor, and black circles mark the places of the Byzantine pillars. This church fell in the great earthquake of 749.  The modern version bears the title, Church of All Nations: the seals of the nations whose Roman Catholics contributed toward its building are visible on the inner sides of its domes. It is also known as the Church of the Agony.


Logistics: The church and the cave are under Franciscan jurisdiction. Opening hours: Daily from 08:00-11:45 and 14:30-17:00 (18:00 in summer). Telephone: 02-6283264. Modest dress required.

Jesus' Prayer at Gethsemane

To consider the events at Gethsemane, the best place for a group is the private Franciscan garden across from the official one. Entrance must be arranged in advance. Here we can find a place on the grass amid olive trees and read the text and take time for silent meditation.


Matthew 26:36-46

Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and said to his disciples, “Sit here, while I go there and pray.” He took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be sorrowful and severely troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Stay here, and watch with me.”  

He went forward a little, fell on his face, and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass away from me; nevertheless, not what I desire, but what you desire.” 

He came to the disciples, and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, “What, couldn’t you watch with me for one hour?   Watch and pray, that you don’t enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

Again, a second time he went away, and prayed, saying, “My Father, if this cup can’t pass away from me unless I drink it, your desire be done.”   He came again and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. He left them again, went away, and prayed a third time, saying the same words. Then he came to his disciples, and said to them, “Sleep on now, and take your rest. Behold, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.   Arise, let’s be going. Behold, he who betrays me is at hand.”

This prayer marks the beginning of the Passion.

Paul calls Jesus the last Adam , come to redeem the sin of the first. And what was the sin of the first? The eating of the fruit in the Garden of Eden. That can be interpreted as an act of self-assertion, of  "I will." And here is Jesus, in a different garden, undoing that: "Not as I will, rather as you will."  Here, in Christian belief, an age comes to fulfillment: the rupture that began in the Garden of Eden is healed in the Garden of Gethsemane.