The Olive garden of Gethsemane
The Olive garden of Gethsemane

At the bottom of the mount of Olives lays a beautiful grove of olive trees. Why is this garden so important in Christian tradition? There are four accounts in Canonical Gospels which describe the events happened in Gethsemane. Three of them are probably taken from the same source, which historians labeled "Q" source. (Along with Markian priority, Q was hypothesized by 1900, and it is one of the foundations of most modern gospel scholarship.) The comprise similar narrative, that's why they are called synoptic. (The term synoptic comes from the Greek syn, meaning "together", and optic, meaning "seen") The earliest of them is the Gospel of Mark. (The book was probably written c.66–70 CE, during Nero's persecution of the Christians in Rome or the Jewish revolt.)

One of the odest trees in the garden
One of the odest trees in the garden

Here is Mark's description of the events in Gethsemane (14:32-52)

"They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled. “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” he said to them. “Stay here and keep watch.”

Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. 

“Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Simon,” he said to Peter,“are you asleep? 

Could you keep watch for one hour? Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Once more he went away and prayed the same thing. When he came back, he again found them sleeping, 

because their eyes were heavy. They did not know what to say to him.

”Returning the third time, he said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Enough!  The hour has come. Look, the Son of Man is delivered into the hands of sinners. Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!

Just as he was speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, appeared. With him was a crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests, the teachers of the law, and the elders. Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: “The one I kiss is the man; arrest him and lead him away under guard.” Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, “Rabbi!” and kissed him. The men seized Jesus and arrested him. Then one of those standing near drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear. “Am I leading a rebellion,” said Jesus, “that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me? Every day I was with you, teaching in the temple courts, and you did not arrest me. But the Scriptures must be fulfilled.” Then everyone deserted him and fled. A young man, wearing nothing but a linen garment, was following Jesus. When they seized him, he fled naked, leaving his garment behind."


The eight oldest trees in Gethsemane
The eight oldest trees in Gethsemane

Luke tells us (22:39-51):

"Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. On reaching the place, he said to them, “Pray that you will not fall into temptation.” He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.

When he rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, he found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow. 

“Why are you sleeping?” he asked them. “Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.” While he was still speaking a crowd came up, and the man who was called Judas, one of the Twelve, was leading them. He approached Jesus to kiss him, but Jesus asked him,“Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?” When Jesus’ followers saw what was going to happen, they said, “Lord, should we 

strike with our swords?” And one of them struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his right ear. But Jesus answered, “No more of this!” And he touched the man’s ear and healed him. Then Jesus said to the chief priests, the officers of the temple guard, and the elders, who had come for him, “Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come with swords and clubs? Every day I was with you in the temple courts, and you did not lay a hand on me. But this is your hour—when darkness reigns.”


John's version has a few different features (18:1-12):

"When he had finished praying, Jesus left with his disciples and crossed the Kidron Valley. On the 

other side there was a garden, and he and his disciples went into it. Now Judas, who betrayed him, knew the place, because Jesus had often met there with his disciples. So Judas came to the garden, guiding a detachment of soldiers and some officials from the chief priests and the Pharisees. They were carrying torches, lanterns and weapons.

Jesus, knowing all that was going to happen to him, went out and asked them, “Who is it you want?”

“Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied.

“I am he,” Jesus said. (And Judas the traitor was standing there with them.) When Jesus said, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground. Again he asked them, “Who is it you want?” “Jesus of Nazareth,” they said.

Jesus answered, “I told you that I am he. If you are looking for me, then let these men go.”  This happened so that the words he had spoken would be fulfilled: “I have not lost one of those you gave me.”

Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus)

Jesus commanded Peter, “Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?” Then the detachment of soldiers with its commander and the Jewish officials arrested Jesus."

The Kidron Valley and the gates of Mercy
The Kidron Valley and the gates of Mercy

And from this place Jesus begins his way of sorrows. His passion begins in Gethsemane. He is brought to the trial of the religious council "Sanhedrin" and later to a secular trial led a Roman prefect Pontius Pilate.That is why according to an ancient Christian tradition a symbolical procession of believers repeated his way of the cross had begun its way always from Gethsemane.

The authenticity of the spot is obvious, according to the Gospel sources, it had occurred at the bottom of Mount of Olives. This event is multiply attested (Mark 14:10-11, 43-45, John 18:2-3; and even in the book of Acts 1:16 and possibly  in 1-St Cor. 11:23)

There are some questions that arise when one reads the narrative. And the first of them is what exactly did Judas betray to the authorities about Jesus?

Some question exists about the meaning of the Greek word for "betray" One interpretation is that God is "giving him over"to his suffering. The most probable answer is that Judas had betrayed Jesus' and his disciples' location. It seems highly unbelievable though that this place was unknown to others. May be Judas betrayed to the high priest the insider information that was available to him as to of the twelve closest disciples and was used against Jesus at the court. Perhaps, it was Jesus' claim that he was a king, the Anointed One - Messiah.

Another question is why is that according to John that Judas had to show Jesus to the guards by a special sign he had chosen? Jesus was in public ministry and people knew him. Also the aristocracy could have obtained the information about Jesus whereabouts without paying for it. In Gethsemane Judas had to indicate who was Jesus by the agreed previously sign - a kind of a hypocritical kiss. It is interesting to observe also the fact that it was impossible to distinguish 

Jesus from his disciples. This proves Jesus had ordinary, utterly human look. 

The Gethsemane Church of all nations

The frontal view of the church
The frontal view of the church

 The first church  in Gethsemane was built here in Roman Byzantine period, in the fourth century AD. It was destroyed later, by in earthquake of 746 AD. Crusaders rebuilt the church in the 12Th century but the Arab Muslims again destroyed it in 1187 AD. It was finally abandoned in 1345 AD.

In 1666 Franciscan Order purchased the area but were not allowed to build anything. This state of affairs continued till the British arrival.



The mosaic of agony of Christ, Professor Gulio Belini
The mosaic of agony of Christ, Professor Gulio Belini

The British Mandate rule made possible a construction of a new and magnificent edifice. It was accomplished during 1919 -1924.The architect of the shrine was the famous Antonio Barluzzi.

The building is divided into three aisles  by six columns. 

12 domes of the Basilica represent 12 Nations who donated money for building the edifice. The signs of every donated country are incorporated into ceiling.

On the left side depicted Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Mexico;

in the middle there are Italy, France, Spain, UK;

on the right - Canada, Belgium, Germany, USA.

The Olive Grove.

 By the entrance on the wall there is an inscription in Latin:

"Hortus Gethgsemane" - the Garden of Gethsemane.

Gethsemany or in Aramaic - Gath Shmanim means an olive press which, perhaps, stood there at the bottom of the mountain covered by olive trees.

8 old trees are called the dumb and speechless witnesses of Jesus agony and consequent arrest. Is it possible theoretically speaking that the olive tree will live such a long life? The answer is yes it is. The olive tree can live such a long life and while its trunk dries out and dies the tree can renew its life from the shoots that grow directly from the roots. Such shoots are called "netsarim" in Hebrew thus the name of Jesus hometown Natsereth (Nazareth) derives from this word.

"He will be called a Nazarene..." May be a scion, shoot from the root of David.

The oldest olive trees in Israel perhaps grow in Bet Jenin surroundings. There are also 5 trees in Arab villages Dir-Khana and Arabe that are considered very old.

To find out the age of the olive tree by an ordinary method namely counting year rings is impossible. Olive trees do not have obvious year rings.Then there are left only two possibilities - a historical witnesses and C-14 analysis. So The Cultural Association "Coltiviamo la Pace" of Florence, Italy studied in depth and updated knowledge on the olive trees in the garden. The results on the estimated age of tree was according to radiocarbon method of the part of the trunks converge in around 12-th century. Tree no. 1 - 1198; tree no.4 - 1092; tree no.7 - 1166. It might be also interesting to know that Israel produces approximately 20,000 tons of olive oil a year, a tiny percentage of global supply. Spain is responsible for 40 percent and together with Greece, Italy and Portugal, Europe produces about 70 percent of the world's olive oil. But if Israel’s output is like a drop in the ocean in comparison though Israeli olive oil is among the finest in the world.