Gethsemane and Church of All Nations

The garden of Gethsemane is one of the sacred places dearest to Christian tradition. The fact that it is still rich today in olive trees hundreds of years old, twisted and gnarled, has confirmed the belief that these may be the very same olive trees that witnessed Jesus’ last night before his arrest. The word “Gethsemane” originates from the Hebrew expression Gat Shemen, which means “olive press”, in obvious reference to the natural abundance of these trees. Gethsemane holds an important place in the Gospel story, since Jesus (pbuh) spent there the night before his arrest, praying in mortal anguish: “And they came to a place which was named Gethsemane: and he saith to his disciples, Sit ye here, while I shall pray” (Matthew, XXVI 36). In the idyllic setting of Gethsemane, one of the most evocative sights in all Jerusalem, rises the Church of All Nations, built by the Italian architect Antonio Barluzzi between 1919 and 1924. The church, known also as the Basilica of the Agony, in reference to the night that Christ spent there on the eve of his Passion, blends the architectural lines typical of the Christian basilica (the facade) with the salient features of Islamic buildings (sides, and roof with numerous small domes). The name “Church of All Nations” commemorates the contributions made by many countries to its construction. The flags of the nations are represented inside the little domes which give the whole a distinctly oriental tone. On the site of the present church there rose first a fourth century Byzantine church, later transformed by the Crusaders into a basilica. The facade, enclosed by an elegant wrought iron fence, stands at the top of a flight of steps. A mass of pillars supports the great arches surrounding the atrium, while the tympanum is adorned with a modern mosaic representing Jesus as the Link between God and the Human Race. Inside, some remnants of the mosaic paving document the existence of the ancient Byzantine church. The presbytery is the part of the church which most attracts the attention, since a large fragment of the rock on which Jesus is supposed to have prayed the night before the Passion can be seen in front of the high altar. The rock is entirely surrounded by a crown of thorns in wrought iron. In the lunette in the apse is a mosaic representing Christ in Agony being Consoled by an Angel. In the side apses are other mosaic representations of episodes in Jesus’ passion, such as the Kiss of Judas and the Arrest of Jesus.

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