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Jerusalem Attractions: The Basilica of the Agony at the Garden of Gethsemane

"...Jesus left with his disciples and crossed the Kidron Valley. On the other side there was an olive grove, and he and his disciples went into it." (John 18:1)

Built in Jerusalem in 1924 on the traditional site of the Garden of Gethsemane, the Basilica of the Agony enshrines a section of bedrock identified as the place where Jesus prayed alone in the garden on the night of his arrest. Although it is not certain that this is the exact spot, the setting does fit the Gospel description, and the present church, designed by the architect Antonio Barluzzi, rests on the foundations of two earlier shrines: a 12th-century Crusader chapel, abandoned in 1345; and a 4th-century Byzantine basilica, destroyed by the earthquake in 746. (A rock on the way up to the Mount of Olives is mentioned by the Pilgrim of Bordeaux in 333, who identifies it as the place where Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus.)

The windows in the present church are made from translucent purplish-blue alabaster, which gives an intended dimmed-lighting effect to the interior. Six monolithic columns support 12 cupolas, the insides of which are decorated with mosaic tiles depicting the national emblems of the donor communities. This decoration gave rise to the popular name, Church of All Nations.

The name Gethsemane is a Greek form of the Hebrew gat shemanim ([olive] oil press). Eight olive trees in the adjoining garden are very ancient. (The dating of olive trees is difficult as they renew both trunk and root structure so that a young- looking tree may in fact have ancient roots).

In the garden is an open altar, placed there by the Franciscan fathers in an ecumenical gesture to the Anglican community, which holds Maundy Thursday services there on the eve of Good Friday.

Pope Paul VI planted a tree in the garden during his visit to Jerusalem in 1964. Pope Francis did the same in 2014.

Source: Israeli Foreign Ministry