The Garden of Gethsemane is the garden where Jesus prayed while his disciples slept the night before His crucifixion. It is just outside the walls of Old Jerusalem at the foot of the Mount of Olives and just across the Kidron Valley from Jerusalem. According to the New Testament, the Garden of Gethsemane was a place Jesus and his disciples often visited which allowed Judas to find him and betray him on the night of his arrest. Gethsemane means, literally, the oil press.
Disciples, Mark and Matthew, recorded that Jesus went to a place called the oil press (Gethsemane) that was well known to Jesus and the disciples because it was close to the natural route from the Temple Mount to the summit of the Mount of Olives and the ridge leading to Bethany. Disciple, Judas Iscariot, the betrayer, arrived with a multitude of soldiers, high priests, Pharisees, and servants to arrest Jesus. Judas identified Jesus by the prearranged signal of a kiss he gave to Jesus.
According to the Eastern Orthodox Church tradition, Gethsemane is the garden where the Virgin Mary was buried and was assumed (taken) into heaven after her dormition (falling asleep or death) on Mount Zion.
In 1681 Croatian knights of the Holy Order of Jerusalem bought the Garden of Gethsemane and donated it to the Franciscans, a religious order within the Catholic Church. Today, it sits within the grounds of the Roman Catholic Church of All Nations.
Eight ancient, gnarled olive trees growing in the garden are among the oldest known to science and, according to Italian carbon dating, may be 900 years old. All the tree trunks are hollow inside so the central, older wood is missing and couldn’t be carbon dated in the Italian tests.
In 1982 the University of California carried out carbon dating tests on some root material from Gethsemane. The results indicated that some of the wood could be dated as 2300 years old.
Many believe the trees are the same trees that sheltered Jesus on the night before his crucifixion and they are still producing olives and oil is still being pressed from those olives. When olives are harvested each year, the oil is pressed for Gethsemane’s sanctuary lamps and the pits are used to make rosary beads, given by the Franciscan Custos of the Holy Land to notable pilgrims.
The present Gethsemane trees, however, were not standing at the time of Christ. The historian, Flavius Josephus, reports that all the trees around Jerusalem were cut down by the Romans to make siege equipment before they captured Jerusalem in AD 70.
Gethsemane olive trees are possibly descendants of one that was in the garden at the time of Christ. This is because when an olive tree is cut down, shoots will come back from the roots to create a new tree.
The Garden of Gethsemane is very small, about 3/10 of an acre. The garden’s 8 ancient olive trees are behind a fence of iron tracery with Byzantine motifs. The fence is around the perimeter of the garden and prevents visitors from walking the paths between trees.
Young local boys stood at the entrance to the garden and sold maps. Commerce is everywhere in Israel.