The places of memory at Gethsemane
Gethsemane was the name used by the evangelists Mark and Matthew for the place where Jesus went after the Last Supper. The word comes from the Aramaic gat semãnê.
St. Jerome, interpreting the biblical name of Gethsemane as “vallis pinguendinum” (valley of abundance), emphasized the fertility of the location, which presumably was the site not only of numerous olive groves but also vineyards.
Today the term Gethsemane refers to three sites, watched over by the Franciscans, which commemorate the agony and arrest of Jesus during the night in which he was betrayed:
The Grotto of Gethsemane
The Grotto of Gethsemane, at the base of the Mount of Olives, is beside Mary’s Tomb. Inside, it preserves not only ancient traces of the veneration linked to the memory of the passion of Jesus, but also signs of its earlier agricultural use, perhaps as the site of an oil press. Pilgrims who visited the Grotto between the 4th and 6th centuries AD associated the site with Judas' betrayal and the arrest of Jesus. Following the destruction of the Crusader church in Gethsemane, the Grotto became the place where the three prayers of Jesus were commemorated, while tradition fixed the site of the arrest at the “Rock of the Apostles”, above the ruins of the Crusader church. Today, with the restoration of the holy places the Grotto has once again become the place in which Judas' betrayal and the arrest of Jesus are commemorated.
The Garden of Olives
The Garden of Olives preserves, according to tradition, the age-old olive trees that were present at the agony of Jesus. Within this plot of land, owned by the Franciscans since 1681, are eight of the oldest olive trees in the world, as well as others that were planted during the past century.
Church of All Nations
The Church of the Agony is also called the “Church of All Nations” but is in fact better known simply as Gethsemane. It is the sanctuary preserving the bare rock on which Jesus' agony is commemorated. The modern church, consecrated in 1924, is a masterpiece created by the Italian architect Antonio Barluzzi closely following the shape of the ancient Byzantine church discovered during the construction works on the new sanctuary. In fact, the current church rises above the site of the two destroyed ancient churches, the first commissioned by Theodosius during the Byzantine period and the second built by the Crusaders and dedicated to St. Saviour.