The Garden of Gethsemane is planted at the foot of the Mount of Olives facing the Kidron Valley and Jerusalem’s Old City walls. The name of the garden is Hebrew for “oil press” and the garden is planted with olive trees, some dating back hundreds of years. The trees are still harvested for their olives each year just as they were in Biblical times.
The Garden of Gethsemane in the Bible
In the Gospel of John we read of how Jesus came here to pray in the Garden of Gethsemane with his disciples after the Last Supper. It was here that Jesus was betrayed by Judas and arrested by the Romans. In the garden Jesus agonized over the fate he knew awaited him. For this reason it is also called the site of the Agony in the Garden or the Agony of Christ. Jesus would have known the garden well. It lies on the natural route between the Temple Mount and the village of Bethany and he would have often retreated to this olive grove in prayer and contemplation.
The Grotto of Gethsemane
By the 4th century AD the garden had become a pilgrimage site and although alternate sites have been proposed the present site we call the Garden of Gethsemane fits the Biblical description. Within the garden you can see the Grotto of Gethsemane (also called the Cave of the Olive Press) where Jesus and his disciples may have slept. The 190m² cave has not altered since Jesus spent time here. You can still see where a hole in the wall held a wooden beam used in the process of pressing olives. Today the grotto is used as a chapel. Nearby is the Tomb of Mary where the Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus is said to have been buried.
The Church of All Nations
On the edge of the garden stands the Church of All Nations (The Basilica of the Agony) built around the rock where Jesus prayed on that fateful night. The church was designed by Antonio Berluzzi and built in 1924 with funds from Christian communities across the globe – hence the name. The church is recognizable by its stunning gold and colored tympanum mosaic above the entrance depicting Jesus, his followers and disciples. Part of an earlier Byzantine church that stood here in the 4th century has been incorporated into the structure of the church. In the church you can see part of the Byzantine mosaic floor and the rock where Jesus prayed.
The Garden of Gethsemane is a must-see site for Christian visitors; even visiting Popes have spent time in the garden and planted olive trees. On Holy Thursday during Passion Week pilgrims gather to pray in the Garden of Olives and led by the Franciscan Custos they make their way in a procession to Gallicantu on the Mount Zion where Jesus spent the night imprisoned after his arrest.