Gethsemane and the Church of all Nations
The Church of all Nations is also called the Basilica of the Agony or the Basilica of Gethsemane. This is a Roman Catholic Church located on the Mount of Olives, east of the Kidron Valley, between the path up the mountain and the busy Jericho Road. The Garden of Gethsemane which in Aramaic means ‘olive press’ occupies an area of approximately 1,200 square meters.
The eight trees with gnarled trunks are older than any olive trees and in 1982 the University of California carried out radiocarbon-dating tests on some root material from Gethsemane. The results indicated that some of the wood could be dated back 2300 years. Walking along the enclosure of the grove one can also see the olive tree planted by Paul VI on 4 January 1964 during his pilgrimage to the Holy Land. The Mount of Olives is strewn with olive trees, sadly most pilgrims think that this enclosed is all that is left.
The first Church was built in 379 during the Byzantine period over a place made holy by the prayer and agony of Christ. This Basilica was then destroyed by the Persians in 614 and in the 12th century was rebuilt by the Crusaders. The present Church of all nations was built between the years 1919 and 1924. Twelve nations contributed towards the building of the Church and to honour these nations the Church has 12 domes, one for each contributing nation.
The façade has a portico with four columns and wedged between them are statues of the four evangelists. The mosaic in gold which dazzles when gazed at from Mt Zion has at its centre Jesus as he kneels in agony between the material world and his Father who holds a plaque with the first and last alphabets of the Greek language. Six angels are depicted in the mosaic, one of whom receives His heart which He sacrificed for humanity. The robes of Jesus are in red depicting his humanity (the colour of blood)
To the right is Mary holding her son (Pieta) as he is taken down from the cross while humanity mourns. To the left are three figures, a king bowed down in homage while his crown is laid before the Lord, a soldier who has laid down his sword while he contemplates the suffering and a scholar in while bemoaning the agony of Christ.
The purplish blue alabaster windows inside the Church set the mood for prayer in the Church at the same time reflecting the agony of Christ on Maundy Thursday. Inside the Church, in front of the main altar of the apse is the ‘rock of agony’. The rock is encircled by cast iron in the form of a crown of thorns that was placed on the head of Jesus.
Above the main altar is a mosaic depicting Jesus in agony in the garden of Gethsemane. To the right are the three apostles who are asleep beneath the olive trees. An angel descends to console the Lord while the Holy Spirit hovers over the entire scene. The main mosaic is flanked on the left by the betrayal of Jesus by Judas and to the right by Jesus identifying himself to the soldiers who came to arrest him.
Fr Warner D’souza