The Sanctuary and the Garden of Gethsemane

Gethsemane, Jeruzalem

Website of the Sanctuary

+972 2 626 6430

Summer (April-September): 8.00 – 18.00 Winter (October-March): 8.00 – 17.00

Gethsemane: preserve the past and train the future

A project to preserve the Church of Gethsemane and to train the restorers and mosaic workers of tomorrow. The restoration and conservation took place through the coordination of Association pro Terra Sancta and Mosaic Center of Jericho, under the scientific supervision of a special committee of the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum.

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The goals of the project are to:

  • preserve and restore, from an architectural and artistic point of view, one of the most important of the Holy Places in Jerusalem and in all the Holy Land.
  • provide training to the youth of Jerusalem through a hands-on course on restoring mosaics.
  • deepen awareness among both the local population and the international community of the historical and artistic value of this Holy Site.

Coming to Gethsemane and having the best stay:


Guides and tours in Gethsemane:

The scheduled activities include:

      • documentation and cleaning of the mosaics on the inner vault and the outer facade of the church.
      • restoration of the roof, the floor and all of the damaged parts, inside and outside the building.
      • carrying out a practical training course on mosaic restoration for the youth of Jerusalem, with the local experts of the Mosaic Center of Jericho.
      • arranging activities and tours of the church for the young people in Jerusalem’s schools.

With the restoration of the Church of Gethsemane, the many pilgrims coming to the Holy Land will be able to continue visiting and celebrating one of the most important Holy Site in Jerusalem.

At the same time, we want to draw the local community even more into the preservation of the historical and artistic heritage of this city, training restorers and mosaic workers and deepening the link of local youth with their territory, which is so rich in history.

The Garden of Gethsemane – the Garden of Olives

A belief common to many who visit the Holy Land for the first time is that the Garden of Olives is a large plot of land full of plants and flowers, immersed in the quiet of the nature, free from the confusion of the Holy City.

But if during Jesus’ time much of the Mount of Olives must have been covered by plants and crops, today the general situation is not exactly the same. Nonetheless, this small grove with its few age-old olive trees remains one of the natural areas most faithful to the Jerusalem of two thousand years ago.

Jesus often retreated to these cultivated groves to pass the night and pray. And on that Thursday evening, after the last supper and before his arrest, he retired there with his disciples. As the Synoptic Gospels recount, it was there that Jesus experienced his deepest anguish, deciding to entrust himself, in total abandonment, to the will of the Father.

The Garden of Gethsemane is located to the east of the Kidron Valley, between the path up the mountain and the busy Jericho Road. Situated at the entrance of the property that constitutes the Sanctuary of Gethsemane, the Garden occupies an area of approximately 1,200 m2.

A railing allows visitors to walk around the age-old olive trees, while at the same time protecting them from the large number of visitors.

Alongside the eight oldest trees, new olive trees have been planted to replace the cypress trees and various flowering plants that in the nineteenth century supplied the floral decorations for the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The Basilica was built next to the Garden of Gethsemane.

The old olive trees, with their hollow and twisted trunks, are more than 3 meters in diameter. The most recent studies have confirmed their excellent state of health and have dated their aerial parts from the 12th century. But the most astonishing discovery to have emerged from the investigations is that the eight olive trees are “siblings”: they have identical DNA, indicating that they came from cuttings, i.e., branches that had been pruned and then grafted, belonging to the same “mother” tree.

This finding supports the idea that a particular olive tree was specifically chosen for this purpose, perhaps because it was believed to have “witnessed” the night of Jesus’ agony. The oldest trees in the grove have thus arrived intact from the Crusader period, having survived the destruction of the church and the years of abandon which ended in 1681 when the Franciscan Fathers officially took possession of the grove.

The evidence of the pilgrim Giorgi Cucci is of interest in this respect: in 1384 he described the olive trees in the grove as “extremely old”, “numerous and beautiful”. Walking along the enclosure of the grove one can also see the olive tree planted by Paul VI on 4 January 1964 during his pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

Each year the procession on Holy Thursday departs from the Garden of Olives, led by the Franciscan Custos: at nightfall all the faithful and pilgrims come together at Gethsemane to keep vigil in prayer during the Holy Hour before heading for Gallicantu, where Jesus spent the night in prison. A number of volunteers come from all over the world to help the friars of the Custody care for the olive trees, especially at the time of harvesting and pruning.

The olive trees of Gethsemane: the latest findings of the Garden of Gethsemane

In 2009 an investigation was undertaken on the state of health of the ancient olive trees of the sacred Garden. The results of the investigation, made public in 2012, also shed light on the highly debated subject of the age of the plants. The research was carried out by a team of experts and researchers from the Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche (CNR), in conjunction with a number of Italian universities, coordinated by Professors Giovanni Gianfrate and Antonio Cimato.

The studies concluded that, apart from being in very good health, the plants were approximately 900 years old, meaning that the aerial part of the olive trees, their trunks and foliage, date from the Crusader period. But the most intriguing discovery came from DNA analysis: the eight olive trees, in fact, exhibit an identical genetic profile, i.e., they belong to the same “genotype”, that of a single tree from which branches of varying thicknesses were taken to be planted in the garden.

It thus seems likely that, in addition to building the church, the Crusaders renovated the garden seeking to “multiply”, within a sacred area, a single tree, perhaps because it was ancient and venerated with regard to Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane, in the same manner in which today the eight olive trees are venerated.

Due to these new findings the sacredness of the Garden has been reinforced: the olive trees are indeed witnesses of the faith rooted in the Christian community of Jerusalem that, together with countless pilgrims, never tires of announcing the Resurrection of Christ to the entire world.

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The rock of the Agony of Jesus

The centerpiece of the church is the bare rock, left exposed for veneration, a practice that was common to many Holy Places and which dates back to ancient times. Indeed, since at least the end of the 14th century pilgrims to Gethsemane have customarily prostrated themselves before the “Rock of the Apostles”, where Peter, James and John were said to have fallen asleep during Jesus’ agony, and which today can still be seen outside in the area behind the church. But this type of veneration must have existed even earlier if, as now appears, in both the Byzantine and Crusader churches the bare rock had been left in view inside the building so that the faithful could touch the very stone that had witnessed Jesus’ suffering and sweating of blood .

Pilgrims today are still able to touch and venerate the bare rock that can be seen in the presbytery beyond an early-Christian style balustrade separating the presbytery from the nave. The rock, which after nearly a century of homage is beginning to show traces of the veneration it has been the object of, is enclosed within a braided crown of thorns, about 30 cm high, made from wrought iron and silver and slightly inclined towards the rock. The work, by the artist Alberto Gerardi, features two dying doves in silver decorating the corners and three chalices on the three sides of the enclosure, from each one of which two doves are drinking: the symbolism of the work alludes to the Passion of Christ and his martyrdom.

In the apse is preserved natural rock, bearing antique chisel marks, on which the walls of the church rest. One can still see several of the stones from the Theodosian church, found during the archaeological excavations, which preserve traces of the ancient rainwater drainage channel: one in the apse to the right and two in the one to the left.

The Garden of Olives

A belief common to many who visit the Holy Land for the first time is that the Garden of Olives is a large plot of land full of plants and flowers, immersed in the quiet of the nature, free from the confusion of the Holy City. But if during Jesus’ time much of the Mount of Olives must have been covered by plants and crops, today the general situation is not exactly the same. Nonetheless, this small grove with its few age-old olive trees remains one of the natural areas most faithful to the Jerusalem of two thousand years ago.

Jesus often retreated to these cultivated groves to pass the night and pray. And on that Thursday evening, after the last supper and before his arrest, he retired there with his disciples. As the Synoptic Gospels recount, it was there that Jesus experienced his deepest anguish, deciding to entrust himself, in total abandonment, to the will of the Father.

The Garden of Olives is located to the east of the Kidron Valley, between the path up the mountain and the busy Jericho Road. Situated at the entrance of the property that constitutes the Sanctuary of Gethsemane, the Garden occupies an area of approximately 1,200 m2. A railing allows visitors to walk around the age-old olive trees, while at the same time protecting them from the large number of visitors.
Alongside the eight oldest trees, new olive trees have been planted to replace the cypress trees and various flowering plants that in the nineteenth century supplied the floral decorations for the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The Basilica was built next to the Garden of Gethsemane. The old olive trees, with their hollow and twisted trunks, are more than 3 meters in diameter. The most recent studies have confirmed their excellent state of health and have dated their aerial parts from the 12th century. But the most astonishing discovery to have emerged from the investigations is that the eight olive trees are “siblings”: they have identical DNA, indicating that they came from cuttings, i.e., branches that had been pruned and then grafted, belonging to the same “mother” tree. This finding supports the idea that a particular olive tree was specifically chosen for this purpose, perhaps because it was believed to have “witnessed” the night of Jesus’ agony. The oldest trees in the grove have thus arrived intact from the Crusader period, having survived the destruction of the church and the years of abandon which ended in 1681 when the Franciscan Fathers officially took possession of the grove.

The evidence of the pilgrim Giorgi Cucci is of interest in this respect: in 1384 he described the olive trees in the grove as “extremely old”, “numerous and beautiful”. Walking along the enclosure of the grove one can also see the olive tree planted by Paul VI on 4 January 1964 during his pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Each year the procession on Holy Thursday departs from the Garden of Olives, led by the Franciscan Custos: at nightfall all the faithful and pilgrims come together at Gethsemane to keep vigil in prayer during the Holy Hour before heading for Gallicantu, where Jesus spent the night in prison. A number of volunteers come from all over the world to help the friars of the Custody care for the olive trees, especially at the time of harvesting and pruning.

The olive trees of Gethsemane: the latest findings

In 2009 an investigation was undertaken on the state of health of the ancient olive trees of the sacred Garden. The results of the investigation, made public in 2012, also shed light on the highly debated subject of the age of the plants. The research was carried out by a team of experts and researchers from the Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche (CNR), in conjunction with a number of Italian universities, coordinated by Professors Giovanni Gianfrate and Antonio Cimato.

The studies concluded that, apart from being in very good health, the plants were approximately 900 years old, meaning that the aerial part of the olive trees, their trunks and foliage, date from the Crusader period. But the most intriguing discovery came from DNA analysis: the eight olive trees, in fact, exhibit an identical genetic profile, i.e., they belong to the same “genotype”, that of a single tree from which branches of varying thicknesses were taken to be planted in the garden. It thus seems likely that, in addition to building the church, the Crusaders renovated the garden seeking to “multiply”, within a sacred area, a single tree, perhaps because it was ancient and venerated with regard to Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane, in the same manner in which today the eight olive trees are venerated.

Due to these new findings the sacredness of the Garden has been reinforced: the olive trees are indeed witnesses of the faith rooted in the Christian community of Jerusalem that, together with countless pilgrims, never tires of announcing the Resurrection of Christ to the entire world.

Holy Hour officiated:
From monday to saturday at 20:00-21:00 – International Holy Hour – Reservations are required at Franciscan Pilgrims’ Office – FPO.
The first Thursday of each month at 20.30 with procession arount the Holy Orto.
Feasts and Celebrations during the year:
Lenten Season:Second week of Lent – Pilgrimage with Solemn Mass
Holy Week: Wednesday – Solemn Mass with singing of the Passion; Thursday – Holy Hour
Solemnity of the Precious Blood of Jesus – 1 July
Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary– 14/15 August

Reservations are required for all forms of celebration at the places and can be made through:
Franciscan Pilgrims’ Office – FPO
tel: +972 2 6272697 E-mail: [email protected]
Catholic groups can celebrate Holy Mass followed by Holy Hour at the following times:
Weekday:
morning: 8.00 – 9.00 – 10.00 – 11.00
afternoon: 15.00 – 16.00 (winter) 17.00 (summer)

Sunday and feasts:
morning: 9:00 – 10:00 – 11:00
afternoon: 15:00 (winter – summer).

Grotto of Gethsemane

The cave commonly known as the Grotto of Gethsemane (which in Aramaic means the place of the olive oil press) is located to the right of the Tomb of the Virgin, with its entrance at the end of a corridor. Since the fourth century, tradition has placed here the betrayal of Judas. After his agony in the Garden of Olives, Jesus came to meet the Apostles who were resting in the cave, where Judas arrived with the guards.

The Franciscans took possession of the cave in 1361 and, in contrast to the Tomb of the Virgin, have continued to be its owners to the present day. Following a flood in 1955, the Custody of the Holy Land carried out excavations directed by Father Virgilio Corbo that permitted the investigation of the structure and led to a number of interesting discoveries.

The cave, measuring approximately 19 x 10meters and 3.5 meters high, has continued to maintain a “natural” appearance despite the various transformations it has undergone. Initially it would have been used for agricultural purposes, with cisterns and drainage ditches for water and perhaps an olive press; beginning in the fourth century it became a rock church used for funerary purposes; in the Crusader period the vault of the cave was decorated with paintings of stars and scenes from the Gospels.

From the entrance, which was constructed after a flood in 1655 rendered impracticable the preceding ones, one descends several steps leading into the interior of the cave. The plastered rock, in part natural and in part artificially shaped, is supported by pillars that are also, in part, natural. On the occasion of Jubilee 2000 a restoration was undertaken of the painted vault from the Crusader era: remains of frescoes and numerous graffiti left by pilgrims can once again be seen. The three paintings enclosed in squares depicting Jesus praying in the Garden, Christ with the Apostles, and the angel comforting the Savior form part of the Crusader decoration of the vault.

An inscription in Latin consisting of three rows of capital letters in white on a red and black background is painted on the vault, to the right of the presbytery. In translation: “This is where the Holy King sweated blood. The Lord and Christ has frequently visited these places. Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me.” It is likely that other such inscriptions served as separators for the different biblical scenes, and provided descriptions of them.

The fresco paintings are the work of the artist Umberto Noni. The one to the right of the altar depicts Jesus’ daily prayer with the Apostles, set in the interior of a cave like the one in Gethsemane.
Directly opposite the altar, to the left of the entrance stairs, one can see part of the ancient cistern which was initially used as a reservoir for water and later, during the Byzantine period, was transformed into a burial ground. An opening in the floor allows one to see part of the bottom of the cistern, which has been divided into at least five walled tombs. On the south wall of the cistern an arcosolium (“bench” type) tomb was made. The Byzantine entrance to the Grotto was located on this side, above the cistern. Through a quadrangular opening at the base of the wall the stairs that led to the burial ground from the northern side can be seen. In front of the Byzantine entrance to the Grotto a fragment of mosaic pavement in white tesserae has been preserved, containing a Greek funerary inscription in red tesserae with a black border, of which only the first line remains: “KE ANAPAUS(ON)”, “Lord, give us rest”.

Façade and Portico

Above a monumental staircase rises the façade of the church, which overlooks the Kidron Valley directly across from the ancient Golden Gate that opens along the battlemented walls of Jerusalem.
The atrium (courtyard) of the church is formed by three large archways supported by pillars flanked by monolithic columns, which are decorated with Corinthian capitals evoking those of the original Byzantine church. On the cornice, near the columns, statues of the four Evangelists made by Tonnini stand out.

The attention of the visitor is drawn to the magnificent mosaic of sparkling, colored tesserae on a golden background that adorns the tympanum. The decoration, the work of Giulio Bargellini and carried out by the company Monticelli in 1930, is a hymn to Jesus, represented as the mediator between God and man. Mankind is divided into two groups: on the left are the wise who lament their limits, and on the right are the simple and the afflicted. Both groups are kneeling in prayer before Jesus who receives the pleas of all humanity with open arms and, raising his head, commends them to the Father, the beginning and end of all things. An angel to the right of Jesus receives his heart, full of suffering for humanity. Below the scene is a verse from the Letter to the Hebrews which accompanies and clarifies the theological objective of the mosaic: “PRECES SUPPLICATIONESQUE CUM CLAMORE VALIDO ET LACRYMIS OFFERENS EXAUDITUS EST PRO SUA REVERENTIA” (“He offered prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears and he was heard because of his reverence”; cf. Heb 5:7).

The ownership of Mary’s Tomb and the Grotto of the Betrayal

The representatives of religious communities front of the tomb of the Virgin and the Grotto of Gethsemane, between 1867 and 1899
A firman (Ottoman decree) issued in 1636 declared that the Franciscans had been the owners of Mary’s Tomb since ancient times. Between 1361 and 1363, in fact, both Queen Joanna of Naples and Peter IV of Aragon had done their utmost with the Mameluke Sultan of Egypt to obtain Mary’s Tomb for the Franciscans. Their intervention had a positive result: the 1377 Statutes of the Holy Land prescribed that the Friars would each Saturday celebrate Holy Mass at the Tomb of the Virgin, celebrations also mentioned by the Italian pilgrim Giorgio di Guccio Gucci in 1384.
The possession of Mary’s Tomb by the Franciscans and their exclusive right to celebrate Holy Mass there on a daily basis was confirmed in decrees of the Ottoman sultans until 1847, but was definitively annulled several years later following a firman issued in 1853, which reflected the fact that in practice they were unable to celebrate there.
In fact, in 1757 a number of sanctuaries had already been taken over by the Greek Orthodox, among these being Mary’s Tomb, which was never returned. As a result, the Franciscan presence at the site was restricted, and the Franciscans were prevented from reestablishing their rights due to the intervention of Russia on behalf of the Greek Orthodox.
Today the Tomb of the Virgin is under the guardianship of the Greek and Armenian Orthodox and represents, together with Bethlehem, and the churches of the Holy Sepulchre and the Ascension, the fourth Holy Place regulated by the Status Quo. The Status Quo established that the Franciscans could continue to carry out a solemn procession there only once per year, on the occasion of the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the 15th of August.
In contrast to Mary’s Tomb, the Grotto of the Betrayal, located to the right of the entrance to the Tomb, has remained the property of the Franciscans. As for the Tomb, the presence of the friars dates back to the 14th century. In 1803 they obtained permission from Sultan Selim III to place a door at the entrance for which they would keep the key. This door has allowed the preservation of this place of prayer.

The Basilica of Gethsemane

The interior of the church, interrupted only by two rows of six rose-colored columns supporting the twelve equally sized domes of the ceiling, reproduces, albeit on a larger scale, the plan of the Theodosian basilica with its central nave and two aisles each ending in a semicircular apse.
In Barluzzi’s design, everything comes together to evoke the nighttime scene of that Thursday of Easter when, in the moonlight amidst the branches of the olive trees, Jesus endured his Agony and abandonment to the will of the Father.

The light in the church’s interior was conceived by the architect as a defining element: the internal darkness, in marked contrast to the bright light outside, was consciously created through the use of violet-colored opalescent glass in the windows along the side walls of the church. The various shades of violet filter the sunlight through the geometric tracery projecting the motif of the cross.
The nighttime setting created in the interior of the church is highlighted by the mosaics in the twelve ceiling domes where, against a deep blue background, the starry sky lights up, framed by the olive branches. At the center of each vaulted dome are various motifs evoking Jesus’ passion and death, and the coat of arms of the Custody of the Holy Land. To memorialize all of the countries that contributed to the construction of the church their national coats-of-arms have been reproduced in the domes and in the mosaics in the apse. Beginning with the apse of the aisle on the left are the emblems of Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Mexico; in the nave are those of Italy, France, Spain and the United Kingdom; and in the aisle on the right are those of Belgium, Canada, Germany and the United States. Reflecting this international collaboration, the church was given the name “Church of All Nations”.

For decorating the floor, the architect had the modern intuition of reproducing the mosaics and plan of the ancient Theodosian basilica on which the construction of the modern church was based. The bands of gray stone follow the perimeter of the walls of the Byzantine church and are flanked by a line of black and white marble with a “zigzag” indicating the position of the drainage channels in which rainwater was conveyed to the cistern. Thanks to the fragments of mosaics uncovered in the excavations, the artist Pietro D’Achiardi was able to reconstruct the geometrical designs of the fourth century pavement: at a number of places throughout the church pieces of the original floor can be viewed through glass inserts.

While in the side aisles ancient mosaics with their geometric designs framed by intertwined ribbons have been faithfully reproduced, in the nave a new design was carried out taking into consideration the colors of the tesserae of the ancient mosaics. The new mosaics are based on traditional motifs characteristic of fourth century Byzantine art: a border consisting of spiral acanthus leaves, with flowers and birds on a black background, frames the sober central panel which presents a stylized cross bearing the so-called Constantinian monogram, the symbol used by the early Christians formed by superimposing the Greek letters X and P, “chi” and “rho”, an abbreviation for “Christós”.
On entering the church one’s attention is drawn to the scene of Jesus’ agony represented in the central apse. The work, conceived by the artist Pietro D’Achiardi, is deliberately simple with stylized forms, with the aim of helping the observer to approach the humanity of Jesus, to the sadness of the Man God who freely chose to commit himself to the will of the Father.

At the center of the scene is Jesus collapsed on the rocks that are supporting him, in the nighttime setting in the olive grove. The three Apostles, who were overcome by sleep due to their “grief”, as the Evangelist Luke recounts, can be seen not far away behind the olive trees. The dark celestial vault accentuates the nighttime atmosphere, in which the angel descending to bring comfort to Jesus shines from above. The scene portrayed is that recounted by the Evangelist Luke, and the most important verses are presented, in Latin, at the bottom of the work: “APPARUIT AUTEM ILLI ANGELUS DE COELO CONFORTANS EUM. ET FACTUS IN AGONIA PROLIXIUS ORABAT. ET FACTUS EST SUDOR EIUS SICUT GUTTAE SANGUINIS DECURRENTIS IN TERRAM” (“And an angel appeared to him from heaven, comforting him. He was in such agony and he prayed so fervently that his sweat became like drops of blood falling on the ground”, Luke 22:43-44). The Hungarian Commissariat paid for the cost of carrying out the mosaic, and for this reason the Hungarian national coat of arms can be seen at its base along with that of the Custody of the Holy Land.

The mosaics in the two side apses are the work of Mario Barberis. Despite the artistic and compositional diversity of these two mosaics with respect to the one in the central apse, the use of the same range of colors, along with the nighttime setting in the olive grove, confers a significant degree of uniformity to the ensemble. In the apse of the left-hand aisle is a representation of the kiss with which Judas betrayed Jesus, the signal that had been agreed with the guards and high priests to identify him. The betrayal, as told by Matthew and Luke, is portrayed with Jesus embraced by Judas at the center of the work, with the Apostles crowned with halos on the left and on the right the guards who are illuminated by a torch (Matt 26:39; Luke 22:48). The coat of arms of Ireland, which paid for the work, has been placed at the lower right.

In the apse of the right-hand aisle the mosaic by Barberis portrays the scene, recounted in the Gospel of John, of “Ego sum”, i.e., “I am”. Jesus’ reply to the guards who were seeking the Nazarene made them turn away and fall to the ground (John 18:6). The Apostles on the left are represented by Peter, James and John, at the moment in which Peter draws his sword ready to defend his Lord. On the right the guards appear agitated and some of them fall to the ground. At the center Jesus holds his arms open to signal his welcoming his fate and is surrounded by light signifying the power of his word which made the guards fall to the ground. Poland, which bore the costs for the work, is represented in the coat of arms at the lower right.

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