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The Garden of Gethsemane

September 23, 2019

The Garden of Gethsemane is situated at the foot of the Mount of Olives. It is the site where according to tradition Jesus spent his last night in agonizing prayer, before being betrayed and arrested by the Romans.  The site has been attributed to have a large stone upon which Jesus said his final prayers sweating blood, as well as a grotto where the disciples fell asleep while Jesus was praying, instead of keeping watch.

There are two churches today on the site of the Garden of Gethsemane. The Church of All Nations, which reportedly was built on the said stone that Jesus said his agonized prayers and “sweat blood”. Another church on the site is the Tomb of Mary, also known as the Church of the Sepulchre of Saint Mar, is constructed near the grotto, where it is supposed that the disciples slept while Jesus prayed. The grotto itself has basically remained unchanged, but has been transformed into a chapel with an altar and statues depicting the sleeping disciples.

The name “Gethsemane” is derived from the Hebrew “Gat Shmanim” which means oil press. The garden is therefore presumed to have been a well-established olive grove where the fruits of the olive trees were pressed and ground into oil. On the site there are many olive trees, 8 of which have been dated to be over a thousand years old, however there are no trees dating back to the time of Jesus. These current trees are considered  to have sprouted from the original trees that grew there (based on the fact that new olive trees are known to sprout from the roots of previous trees). It is known that the Romans chopped down most of the trees that were on the Mt. of Olives to use for their purposes.

The olives that grow in the garden are still used for producing oil, which is used in the churches.

The site was excavated in 1972 by Bellarmino Bagatti, who was a Franciscan friar and archeologist. His excavations, which have not yet been fully assessed by the archeological community, found evidence of an ancient cemetery dating back to the 1st century.

Many shrines, monasteries and churches have been built, destroyed and rebuilt on the site.

Currently the tomb and its church are owned by the Greek Orthodox Church and the Armenian Apostolic Church of Jerusalem, whereas the grotto remains in possession of the Franciscans.

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