No visit to Jerusalem is complete until you’ve fully checked out The Mount of Olives. An important Christian pilgrimage site, this is where Jesus was betrayed on his last night and subsequently arrested before being crucified.
His evening began innocently enough with his disciples at the Last Supper in Jerusalem before ending in the Garden of Gethsemane, situated at the foot of the Mount of Olives. Here, Jesus is said to have prayed in agony in contemplation of his upcoming crucifixion, to the point that his sweat was “like drops of blood”.
Our own sweating would come later as we ascended the mount, but first we checked out the Tomb of the Virgin, believed by the Eastern Christians to be the burial place of Mary, mother of Jesus.
The Church of the Sepulchre of Saint Mary which sits above the actual tomb, is cut into the rock with a wide staircase leading down into the church and tomb. A solemn place, it is also one of the few (and the only one we visited), that doesn’t allow photography, hence the lack of any photos.
The Garden of Gethsemane, which literally means the garden of the oil-press, is located just beside the Tomb of the Virgin. As is the norm, four places lay claim to be the place where Jesus prayed on the night he was betrayed, but the one which seems to have the most “support” is that beside the Church of All Nations.
While we couldn’t actually walk through the garden, we were still able to see a number of gnarled, old olive trees which carbon dating has proved at least three of which to be close to a thousand years old. It is sobering to think that technically, due to olive trees growing back from the roots of those that have been cut down, these could be the same trees that witnessed Christ’s agony.
Walking around the Garden of Gethsemane, in the same compound, we reached the Church of All Nations, also known as the Basilica of the Agony due to it enshrining a section of bedrock where Jesus is said to have prayed before his arrest.
The outside façade was as stunning a place as any which we’d gazed upon.
In a land where cultures clash openly and there is conflict aplenty, it is heartwarming to know that the open altar located in the gardens of the church is used by many Christian denominations including those who are Roman Catholic, Protestant, Anglican, Lutheran, Evangelical, Eastern Orthodox and Armenian Apostolic.
Having seen where Jesus was betrayed and arrested, we ascended (again, pun intended) a whole lot of stairs leading up the Mount of Olives to one of the sites where he is said to have arisen to heaven after his resurrection. One of the few religious sites to charge admission (albeit only 5 shekels per adult), the Chapel of the Ascension was actually converted to a mosque after Saladin defeated the Crusaders in 1187. Two years later, as a gesture of compromise and goodwill, he ordered a second mosque nearby for Muslim worship to enable Christians to continue to visit the main chapel. To this day, the Chapel remains under the authority of the Islamic Waqf of Jerusalem.
To be honest, there wasn’t really that much to see, although the dome also houses a slab of stone which is believed to contain the imprint of Jesus’s right foot, which the faithful again line up to kiss.
Coming down the mountain a short way, took us to a viewing platform which provided views over a Muslim graveyard out to the Old City walls, the beautiful Temple Mount and beyond.
From here we rapidly descended past the Tomb of the Prophets and ridiculously picturesque Russian Orthodox Church of Mary Magdalene, who was disciple and companion to Jesus Christ and also the first to see him after his resurrection.
We would have loved to enter the church and convent where about 30 Russian Orthodox nuns from several different countries reside, but we were well outside the very limited visiting hours of 10am to noon on Tuesday’s and Thursday’s. If there’s one thing I’d recommend, it’d be to have a timetable of opening hours for all the sites you wish to see and be religious about getting there in time to see them.
So completed our loop of the Mount of Olives. The only thing we didn’t visit that in hindsight we probably should’ve, was the Pater Noster Church which cost 10 shekels and is supposed to be where Jesus taught his disciples the Lord's Prayer
There was plenty of sweat, most especially when I had to piggy back the kids up the stairs and there was plenty of tears about “how far we have to walk”. The only blood shed, was that of Jesus’s 2,000 years ago and for that the faithful are eternally grateful.