“They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Sit here while I pray.’” (Mark 14:23)
It was in the Garden of Gethsemane on the foot of the Mount of Olives where Jesus was pointed out by Judas Iscariot to be arrested by the Roman soldiers and the Temple guards, who were sent by the chief priests and the teachers of the Law. Christ knew that his hour was near, so he decided to speak to God the Father. In his prayer he hoped that he would not need to suffer much, however he agreed to all God’s will. “Father, everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” (Mark 14:36)
It is believed that the garden of Gethsemane belonged to one of Jesus’ followers, since it was a place where he often preached. “Now Judas, who betrayed him, knew the place, because Jesus had often met there with his disciples.” (John 18:2) In Hebrew, Gethsemane was called gat shemanim, which means oli press or oil storage.
The Basilica of the Agony
Today, when entering the yard in front of the entrance to the Basilica of the Agony, we can notice couple of very old olive trees. Their ancient look create a feeling that they might have been the silent witnesses to Christ’s contemplation with God, followed by his capture and suffering.
On that place, after Christianity became an official religion of the Roman Empire, a basilica was built in the 4th century. However, because the church was built in the Valley of Kidron, outside of the walls of Jerusalem, it was one of the first Christian constructions destroyed by Persians in 614.
In the times of Crusaders, stood there a church built by the local Christians, which was later enlarged and named St. Saviour. The monastery was unfortunately destroyed, so the mass services had to be held in the nearby Grotto of Gethsemane.
Present Basilica of the Agony, was committed to the famous Italian architect A. Barluzz by the Custody of the Holy Land. The basilica is also commonly called Church of All Nations, since many countries contributed its construction, which has begun in 1919. The sanctuary was consecrated in 1924. Inside the church can be seen remains of a floor mosaic of the Byzantine construction, and to the right of the sanctuary are visible the ruins of the Church of St. Saviour of the 12th century.
The Grotto of Gethsemane
Nearby Grotto of Gethsemane is considered to be the place of Christ’s often meetings with the disciples, and as well the one on the evening of his arrest. The interior of the cave is covered with the 12th century wall paintings, which now are almost effaced. The remains of the mosaic which used to decorate its floor can be also seen.
The grotto became a Franciscan property in 1392. In the years between 1956 and 1959, it underwent multiple restorations and at that time three altars were erected.
Holy Thursday in the Garden of Gethsemane
On the Holy Thursday, the 28th of March 2013, the door of the Basilica of the Agony will be open at 9 pm for Holy Hour of prayer. From 10 pm till midnight there will be time for private prayers in silence. For the detailed schedule of Catholic celebrations in the Holy Week and Easter 2013 check: here.
If you go:
Gethsemane Basilica: Summer (April – September) 8:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. 2:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m. Winter (October – March) 8:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. 2:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.
6 a.m. – Mass in Italian language is held everyday in the Basilica of Agony
4 p.m. – On every Thursday, except the 1st Thursday of the month, there is a mass in Latin and Italian languages, which is followed by half an hour adoration. On the 1st Thursday of the month there is celebrated a Holy Hour.
Tel: 628 3264
Gethsemane Grotto: All year long 8:30 a.m. – 12:00 a.m. 2:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m. Note: Sunday and Thursday till 3:40p.m.
Tel: 628 3264
Beata Andonia works for the Bethlehem tourist bureau and blogs regularly about Bethlehem for Travelujah-Holy Land Tours. She is originally from Poland and moved to Bethlehem in 2010.