The beautiful Garden of Gethsemane or Garden of Olives is an oasis of greenery and tranquility at the bottom of the Mount of Olives. Not only is it a gorgeous natural area but it is the site of several Christian Biblical events and a popular pilgrimage destination. The word “Gethsemane” means oil press in Aramaic and the garden earned this name due to the many olive trees which grow here. Some of the olive trees you can see today in the Garden of Gethsemane are more than 900 years old. Archaeologist and botanists have studied the garden’s olive trees and concluded that they may have been here when Jesus visited the garden. 2000 years ago the garden would have been an olive grove with an olive press nearby.
Garden of Gethsemane a Christian Pilgrimage Site
“…a place named Gethsemane and he (Jesus) said to his disciples, stay here while I pray…”Gospel of Matthew
“Jesus’ anguish at Gethsemane was so deep that his sweat was as drops of blood falling to the ground.” Gospel of Luke
The Bible tells us that Jesus was familiar with the garden which made it easy for Judas to seek him out and direct the Romans to arrest him. The Garden of Gethsemane is best known as the site where Christ went with his disciples on the eve of the Last Supper to pray before his arrest and subsequent crucifixion.
Although the garden is best known as the place where Jesus prayed on the eve of his arrest it is also the site of Mary’s dormition and assumption. The Eastern Orthodox Church teaches that the Virgin Mary died in the Garden of Gethsemane. Mary’s Tomb is within a 12th century church nearby. The church bears beautiful murals which tell of Mary’s death and burial by the disciples.
As early as 333AD Christian pilgrims visited the Garden of Gethsemane. The travel journal of a 4th century pilgrim of Bordeaux describes Jerusalem and the Garden of Gethsemane as being at the foot of the Mount of Olives.
The Church of All Nations is further up the mount and there is another olive grove garden next to the church. This church was constructed in the 1920s and features precious floor to ceiling mosaics depicting Biblical scenes from the Garden of Gethsemane including Jesus praying and Judas’ betrayal of Jesus.
There are alternate sites where Jesus might have prayed on the night of his arrest. Next to the Church of All Nations there is a garden where the “Rock of the Agony” is located and this is a possible location of the Garden of Gethsemane. The Eastern Orthodox Church holds that the garden was near the Tomb of Mary; the Greek Orthodox Church believes it was further east and the Russian Orthodox consider the orchard next to the Church of Maria Magdalene to be the true Garden of Gethsemane.
Visiting the Garden of Gethsemane
To reach the Garden of Gethsemane exit the Old City Dung Gate and turn left to Mount of Olives. Stairs take you down into the Kidron Valley at the foot of the mount to the Garden of Gethsemane. Entrance to the garden is free. While visiting the Garden of Gethsemane there are several other interesting Biblical sites nearby on the Mount of Olives. On Mount of Olives there is an ancient Jewish burial ground; the Dome of the Ascension where Jesus ascended to heaven; the Russian Church of Mary Magdalene and the Dominus Felvit Church where Jesus looked out over Jerusalem and wept.
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