The Garden of Gethsemane, near the foot of the Mount of Olives, is named in the New Testament as the place where Jesus went to his disciples the night before he was crucified. What exactly happened according the Gospels?
According to all four Gospels, immediately after the Last Supper, Jesus took a walk to pray. Each Gospel offers a slightly different account with regards to narrative details. Matthew and Mark identify this place of prayer as Gethsemane. Jesus was accompanied by the Apostles Peter, John and James, whom he asked to stay awake and pray. He moved “a stone’s throw away” from them, where He felt overwhelming sadness and anguish, and said “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass me by. Nevertheless, let it be as you, not I, would have it.” Then, a little while later, He said, “If this cup cannot pass by, but I must drink it, your will be done!” (Matthew 26:42). He said this prayer three times, checking on the three apostles between each prayer and finding them asleep. He commented: “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak“. An angel came from heaven to strengthen him. During his agony as he prayed, “his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down upon the ground“.(Luke 22:44).
So far the guide and his interesting stories about the New Testament. But is that all to tell?
Well, the Dutch guide with his pink umbrella against the sun (he claims) and the need for sweets, cakes and everything what’s more sweet, is telling something about the olive trees. He asks if anyone knows if those trees are the same as the time of Jesus? Would they have been witness of the tragic events happened in those times? Those gnarled trunks of eight hoary olive trees were witness of the happenings, which caused so much change throughout the whole world!
The answer is … no.
You need to see everyones faces after hearing that!
It’s not that olive trees can’t be ancient. Two olive trees in the town of Arraba and five in Deir Hanna are over 3000 years old!
The trees in the garden of Gethsemane however, were not standing at the time of Christ. The historian Flavius Josephus reports that all the trees around Jerusalem were cut down by the Romans for their siege equipment before they captured the city in AD 70. Researchers discovered in 2012 that three of the eight ancient trees dated from the middle of the 12th century, and all eight originated as cuttings from a single parent tree.
The Gethsemane olives are possibly descendants of one that was in the garden at the time of Christ. This is because when an olive tree is cut down, shoots will come back from the roots to create a new tree. In 1982 the University of California carried out radiocarbon-dating tests on some root material from Gethsemane. The results indicated that some of the wood could be dated at 2300 years old.
After that, everyone was looking at the trees anew.
Beside the garden is the Church of All Nations, built over the rock on which Jesus is believed to have prayed in agony before he was betrayed by Judas Iscariot and arrested. About 100 meters north of the church is the Grotto of Gethsemane, where Jesus and his disciples often camped at night. In this natural grotto, it is believed, the disciples slept while Jesus prayed. Near the grotto is the Tomb of Mary, where a Christian tradition holds that the Mother of Jesus was buried after she “fell asleep” in death.
Getting to the Grotto of Gethsemane is along a narrow walled passageway leading to the right from the open courtyard in front of the Tomb of Mary.
Over the main altar is a representation of Jesus Praying among the Apostles, while the paintings over the side altars depict the Assumption of theVirgin and the Kiss of Judas.The natural grotto, about 190 square metres in area, is basically unchanged from the time of Jesus.
It is believed to be where the disciples slept while Jesus prayed, and where Jesus was betrayed by Judas and arrested. It may also be the location of Jesus’ night-time meeting with Nicodemus (John 3:1-21).
On a more mundane level, bronze figures beneath the main altar depict two of the sleeping disciples.
The grotto is also known as the Cave of the Olive Press. To the right of the right-hand altar is a hole in the wall. It is just at the right height to hold one end of a wooden beam which, when weighted at the other end, pressed crushed olives piled in loosely woven baskets.
In the 4th century the grotto became a chapel. The floor was paved with white mosaic through which graves were subsequently dug. More than 40 graves, mainly from the 5th to 8th centuries, have been discovered.
But is the Garden of Gethsemane indeed the place where Jesus went to his disciples the night before he was crucified? All of the long-held tradition and the accounts of Mark (14:31) and Matthew (26:36) with the Johannine account (John 18:1). Mark and Matthew record that Jesus went to “a place called the oil press (Gethsemane)” and John states he went to a garden near the Kidron Valley. Modern scholarship acknowledges that the location of Gethsemane is unknown.
As a pilgrim site, this garden is known through history. The Garden of Gethsemane became a focal site for early Christian pilgrims. It was visited in 333 by the anonymous “Pilgrim of Bordeaux”, whose Itinerarium Burdigalense is the earliest description left by a Christian traveler in the Holy Land. In his Onomasticon, Eusebius of Caesarea notes the site of Gethsemane located “at the foot of the Mount of Olives”, and he adds that “the faithful were accustomed to go there to pray“.