In Jerusalem, at the foot of Mount Olives, in the Garden of Gethsemane, is the Church of the Agony.
Because it was built in the 1920’s with donations from Christian communities all over the world it is also known as the Church of All Nations.
As Jerusalem is 800 meters above sea level, it is generally not too hot in the summer months and in fact can be quite cool in the evenings. By contrast it is cold in the winter, especially January and February when it can even snow. The winter rain can also make the cold weather unpleasant.
The church commemorates the both the Agony of Jesus, praying while the disciples slept, and his betrayal by Judas.

My soul is very sorrowful, even unto death; remain here and watch.” (Mark14:32-50)

In the enclosed garden at the entrance to the church are a number of very old olive trees. Gethsemane is Greek a corruption of the Hebrew words “gath-shmanin” – oil press. The church faces the Kidron Valley, also known as the Valley of Jehoshaphat.

Adorning the main entrance to the church and visible from afar the gable depicts Jesus and above him an angel displaying a tablet with the Greek letters alpha and omega. “I am the Alpha and the Omega” (Rev 1:8)

On either side are adoring followers and on top of the columns are the four gospels. Recalling the words “as a hart longs for flowing streams, so longs my soul for thee” (Psalm 42:1-2) two deer complete the mosaic.

Designed by the Franciscan architect Antonio Berluzzi the modern church follows the design of the earlier Byzantine church and incorporates part of the early mosaic floor in the present floor. The rock on which Jesus prayed is the centerpiece of the altar.

Everything about the church is reminiscent of that night. The church is darkened by the purple and lilac windows through which the sun casts its rays. The ceiling, depicting the night sky enhanced with stars and the moon. The iron work on the doors represents the olive trees. The stone altar is surrounded by an iron lattice suggesting the crown of thorns.

On the wall above the altar is a large mosaic depicting the Agony of Christ as he kneels, deep in prayer. The mosaic on the left shows the betrayal by Judas and that on the right shows the arrest of Jesus.

Not to be missed are two sculptures on the left prior to entering the church. The first, with a chalice next to the kneeling Jesus, illustrates the words “take this cup from me”. (Luke22:42)  The second is smaller and often overlooked but as you gaze at it the anguish and agony of Jesus in prayer is almost tangible.

If reserved in advance, it is possible for a Catholic pilgrim group to conduct a Mass at the Church.

Text content copyrights: Bein Harim Ltd., Beryl Ratzer (www.ratzer.com)

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