The Church of All Nations (Basilica of the Agony), Jerusalem

Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, "Sit here while I go over there and pray." He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, "My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me." Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, "My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will."
-- Matthew 26:36-39


Garden of Gethsemane, Church of All Nations, Mount of Olives, Orthodox Church of St. Mary Magdalene


A stone-carved sign over the gated entrance reads "Hortus Gethsemani," Latin for "Garden of Gethsamane." Few sites connected with Christ's Passion are more famous. Here, within an iron fence, are eight gnarled and ancient olive trees commemorating Jesus betrayal and arrest. It should be noted, however, that the Gospels never mention a "garden of Gethsemane," but rather "a place called Gethsemane" (Matthew 26:36; Mark 14:32). In the original Greek, John's gospel (18:1) refers to a kepos which has been translated "garden" (KJV, ASV) and "olive grove" (NIV), but really means a cultivated tract of land. Gethsemane is derived from the Hebrew gat shemanim (Aramaic, gat shamna), meaning "oil press," indicating that an olive press for extracting precious lamp and cooking oil was located somewhere in the area, but it has never been found.

Ancient olive trees within a gated enclosure adjacent to the Old City

The trees here are very old, but they did not witness Jesus' night of agonizing prayer. During the Jewish revolt of 70 AD, general Titus' Roman legions cut-down the trees around Jerusalem to build siege towers, as well as crosses to crucify the rebels who attempted to escape the siege — as many as 500 a day. The roots, however, are said to be two-thousand years old and may indeed have seen Jesus' betrayal and arrest.


Mosaic facade of the Church of All Nations, at the foot of the Mount of Olives

The Church of All Nations, officially named the Basilica of the Agony, is located at the foot of the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem next to the Garden of Gethsemane.
The Catholic church enshrines a section of stone in the Garden of Gethsemane that is believed to be where Jesus prayed on the night of his arrest (Matthew 26:36).
The Basilica of the Agony was built from 1919 to 1924 using funds from 12 different countries, which gave it its common name, Church of All Nations.
The domed roof, thick pillars, and floor mosaic give the church a Byzantine appearance. The architect of the building was Antonio Barluzzi, who also designed the nearby Dominus Flevit Church.


Rock of Agony

The symbols of each country that contributed to the church are incorporated into the inlaid gold ceilings of each of 12 cupolas. The 12 cupolas rest on six monolithic pillars. The front of the church features a colorful façade supported by a row of pillars. The mosaic above the entrance depicts Christ as the link between God and humanity.
The Church of All Nations is run by the Franciscans, but an open altar in the garden is used by the Anglican community on Maundy Thursday (the day before Good Friday).
The Church of All Nations lies on the foundations of two earlier churches: a 12th-century Crusader chapel abandoned in 1345 and a 4th-century Byzantine basilica, destroyed by an earthquake in 746.


Altar Basilica of the Agony


Recent study indicates that the Gethsemane events took place, not in garden, but in a cave where an oil press was located. Olive presses were often placed in caves because their warmth hastened the extraction of oil. Olives were pressed in fall and winter, after the September harvest.

A short distance northwest of the Church of All Nations/Basilica of the Agony is a large cave, known as the "Grotto of Gethsemane," or "Cave of the Betrayal." Notwithstanding restoration work done in the 1950's, it has maintained its original appearance, as at the time of Jesus

By spring, just before Passover, this cave, which may have belonged to or been part of an estate owned by a follower of Jesus, would have been available to pilgrims flocking to Jerusalem for the Passover celebration, held during the month of Nisan (March-April). It would have been a good place for Jesus and the disciples to spend the night — warm, dry and roomy — sheltered from the cold and heavy dew prevalent in the spring. John's Gospel (18:18) refers to the cold the night of Jesus' arrest. There is an old tradition that when Jesus came to Gethsemane after the Last Supper with the remaining eleven disciples, he left eight of them in this cave:
"Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, 'Sit here while I go over there and pray.'" (Matthew 26:36).


Hasmonean Staircase

"This stairway," Doran related, "is yet another major archaeological find of recent times. It connected the old Pool of Siloam at the southwest corner of the City of David (Lower City) with the Upper City. The name 'Hasmonean' refers to the era in which this stepped-street was built (141-37 BC), and it was definitely in use at the time of Jesus. Most likely Jesus walked here at least three times on the evening of Maundy Thursday: once on his way to the "upper room" for the Passover remembrance, once to Gethsemane after the Last Supper, and again after his arrest at Gethsemane."
In the upper left corner of the photo (above) is the Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu ("at the cockcrow"), recalling Peter's denial of Jesus three times before the "cock crowed" twice (more later).


Names: Church of All Nations; Basilica of the Agony  
Hours: Mon-Sat 8-noon & 2-5.30
Services: Sundays 6.30am (Italian); 11am (English); 4pm (Latin & Italian).
Weekdays 6.30am (Italian); 4pm (Latin & Italian)









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