Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” (Matthew 26:36)
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Gethsemane, located across the Kidron Valley, is a mile long ridge that parallels the east portion of Jerusalem. Gethsemane means “oil press” and is a garden at the foot of the Mount of Olives. It is the historic location of Jesus’ prayer with his apostles the night before his death. It was in this garden that Jesus was so anguished over his impending death that he sweats blood. According to Eastern Orthodox tradition, the apostles also buried the body of the Virgin Mary at the Garden of Gethsemane, as well.
Though religious tradition tends to locate the Garden of Gethsemane on the lower slopes of the Mount of Olives, the exact location of the first century prayer of Jesus is unknown. The Gospels of Matthew and Mark call Gethsemane a place or estate, but the Gospel of John specifically calls Gethsemane a garden. It would obviously have to be close enough to the homes of the apostles to be a regular prayer location. We know it is a customary location, as it was easy for Judas to know where Jesus would be the night of his betrayal.
Overlooking the Garden of Gethsemane is the Church of All Nations, which is also called the Church of the Agony. This church is built over the remains of a church destroyed by the Persians in 614 and a Crusader church destroyed in the 1200s. Nearby stands the Russian Orthodox Church of Mary Magdalene, with its golden, distinctly Russian domes.
The Garden of Gethsemane has been a natural site for Christian pilgrims through the ages. There was an anonymous pilgrim famous for his writing. This “Pilgrim of Bordeaux” recorded his travels through the Holy Lands in his work “Itinerarium Burdigalense,” the first record of pilgrimage in Israel.
In 333, the Pilgrim of Bordeaux described visiting the Garden of Gethsemane when he was traveling through Jerusalem. Eusebius of Caesarea describes the Garden of Gethsemane in his “Onomasticon” as being at the foot of the Mount of Olives. He also adds that Christians often went there to pray. The olive trees located at the current site of Gethsemane are thought to be over 900 years old.