Southern approach to the Mount of Olives


by Victor Hoagland, C.P.

Approach to Gethsemani

On a path such as this, Jesus and his disciples, according to the gospels, descended from the city after the meal into the Kidron Valley and walked to the garden called Gethsemani to the northeast.

The Kidron Valley, filled with tombs today as in the time of Jesus, offered a stark reminder of death. It was a favorite burial place for pious Jews, not only because of its proximity to the temple area (at left in picture), but also because of the belief that the Valley of Jehoshaphat, the place where the Lord will judge the nations according to the Prophet Joel (Jl 3,2) was identical with the Kidron ravine.

The Mount of Olives

Part of the two-and-a-half- mile -long mountain ridge that faces Jerusalem and the Kidron Valley from the east, the Mount of Olives attracted Christians both in pre-Constantinian times and later because of its many associations with Jesus. Approaching from Jericho in the east, Jesus must have had his first view the city of Jerusalem from here. He stayed with friends at nearby Bethany on a southeastern portion of this mountain range (Jn 12,1; Mt 21, 17-18; Mk 11,11-12), and there he raised Lazarus from the dead.(Jn 11). He taught his disciples on the Mount of Olives (Mt 24,1-26,2) and riding on a colt he entered Jerusalem from here (Mt 21,1-9). According to the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 1, 6-12), Jesus ascended into heaven from here.

Left: in the Garden of Gethsemane, an ancient olive tree. The trees, though very old, are later than those of Jesus' time.
right: detail from the Church at Gethsemane, the arrest of Jesus

On the western slope of the Mount of Olives, Jesus fell into an agony, prayed, and was arrested by the authorities.

Eusebius, the bishop of Caesarea, writing about 300 A.D. confirms the importance of the Mount of Olives to Christian pilgrims from earliest times:

"All who believe in Christ come here to Jerusalem from every part of the world, not as in the past to admire the splendor of the city or to pray at the temple, but to wonder at the effects of the conquest and destruction of Jerusalem and to pray on the Mount of Olives opposite the city...where the Savior's feet rested." (Dem V1, 18, 23)

The Mount of Olives: the triple-arched Church of All Nations, the third church in a series built on the spot
tradition holds to be the place where Jesus' agony, prayer and arrest took place.

By the end of the 6th century over twenty-four Christian churches were built on this mountain, which had become the home of thousands of monks and nuns.

The Mount of Olives: the triple-arched Church of All Nations, the third church in a series built

The Church at Gethsemane

The Church at Gethsemani, called "The Church of All Nations" was built in 1924 on the site where from the 4th century three previous churches marked the place where Jesus prayed. An area of open bare rock within the church honors the place of Jesus' prayer.

Because it is located along the natural route from Jerusalem to Bethany, the present site, recognized by Christians from pre-Constantinian times, is a likely place for the events the gospels describe.


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