Church of the Agony: And they came to a place which was named Gethsemane: and he said to his disciples, “You sit here, while I go to pray.” (Mark 14:22)
Monday-Friday, 8am to noon, 2pm to 5:30pm
The Franciscan Church of the Agony is also called the Church of All Nations. This is due to the fact that many nations donated toward the building of this sacred Jerusalem site. The Church of the Agony is built on the west hills of the Mount of Olives, facing the old town Jerusalem. The church is located at the crossroads of three paths (the Lions Gate entrance to the old City Jerusalem, the road up to the Mount of Olives and the road leading to Jericho).
The Mount of Olives was called Gethsemane in the English Bible, but “Gat Shemanim” in Hebrew, meaning Olive Press. There was an ancient olive press located at the modern day Mount of Olives, used to press the olives grown there. The Church of the Agony sits on the foothills of the Mount of Olives facing the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Albeit beautiful, this church commemorates the agony Christ felt during his last prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane before his gruesome crucifixion.
The front entrance to the Church of the Agony is beautifully ornamented by a huge mosaic painting depicting Jesus weeping over the future fate of Jerusalem while in the Garden of Gethsemane. Above Jesus’ head there are two Greek letters (alpha and omega, as referred to in the Bible). To the left of Jesus there is a follower holding a sign which reads “ignorance” in Latin. This stands for Jerusalem being ignorant to the fact that Jesus was the son of God and that it would soon be conquered (40 years after Jesus’ death).
There are twelve grey capes on the roof above (standing for each of the 12 nations contributing to the construction of the Church of Agony), and the front of the church is flanked by a grove of ancient olive trees. There are also four pillars, each topped with the figure of a writer of the four gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John). There is a sign reading “Hortus Gethsemane” (the Garden of Gethsemane) above the entrance on the north side of the Church of the Agony. Above this sign is the symbol of the Franciscan Order, the custodians of the Holy Land sites. The Franciscan symbol is a large central cross surrounded by four smaller ones. These stand for the five wounds Christ endured on the cross. He had two hand piercings, two feet piercings and a hole punctured in his side.
Within the church is a large, domed painting of Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane. There is also a large flat stone thought to have been the place Jesus spent praying the evening before his crucifixion. There are also paintings of the betrayal of Jesus by Peter, and Judas kissing Jesus to surrender him to the nearby Romans.
Church of the Agony History:
A church was constructed at the site of the Garden of Gethsemane, but it was destroyed by the Persians in 614. Crusaders rebuilt it in the early 12th century only to be destroyed in 1187 by the Arabs. In 1666, the Franciscans actually bought the land, but weren’t allowed to build on it. From 1919-1924, the Franciscans built the Church of the Agony over the old Crusader ruins.