Grotto of Gethsemane In Jerusalem

Grotto of Gethsemane: ‘Judas, betrayest thou the Son of man with kiss?’ Luke 22:48
‘And they came to a place which was named Gethsemane: and he saith to his disciples, Sit ye here, while I shall pray.’ Mark 14:32

nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.’ – Matthew 26:39
Admission: Free for all visitors
Location: Jerusalem, east of the Old City, in the valley below, near the Tomb of the Virgin/Church of Assumption. Walk No. 4. from Damascus Gate, Bus No. 1
Open Hours: 8:00am 12:00noon – Mon, Tue, Wed, Fri, Sat.  – 2:30pm -3:40pm Sun & Thurs.
Tel. Number: +972 2 625 8844
Note: Vandalism, littering, and smoking is not allowed. Please dress modestly and speak softly.

‘Judas, betrayest thou the Son of man with kiss?’ Luke 22:48

Grotto of Gethsemane

The Grotto of Gethsemane has been credited as the place where Jesus was arrested after being betrayed by Judas, and the site where he left his disciples before heading off to pray alone. It is often confused for the place of the Agony in the Garden, as so it is sometimes erroneously called ‘the Grotto of the Agony’. In keeping with Biblical lore, pilgrims of the 4th and 6th centuries often venerated the agony and arrest of Jesus in two separate places.

The agony was to said to have occurred in the Garden of Gethsemane, while the betrayal and arrest occurred on the left pathway linking Jerusalem to Mount Olivet. There is a grotto ascribed to this pathway, which is known as the Grotto of Gethsemane. This was where, according to tradition, Jesus left his disciples while he went to the Garden to pray. Later, upon his return, this was where he met, and was subsequently betrayed by Judas. He was then arrested while the rest of his disciples fled.

The site of the betrayal invokes a feeling of remorse within every devout believer. In the very ground where Christ was betrayed by man one cannot help but contemplate and agonise over the fact that a life was sacrificed for our redemption. The grotto of the betrayal calls to our hearts to be thankful for the gift of salvation that was given to us, and to be humbled at the cost of that salvation.

History of the Grotto of Gethsemane

The Grotto of Gethsemane, which was known as the Grotto of the Betrayal became a pilgrimage site for devout Christians since the 4th century. It was once thought that the grotto was where Jesus’s agony had occurred, causing it to be referred to as ‘The Grotto of the Agony’ as well. But it is now largely agreed upon that the place of Jesus’s agony and that of his betrayal are two separate sites.

Grotto of Gethsemane

The first documentation to perhaps erroneously suggest the agony of Christ occurring in the very grotto itself was written by a German Dominican named Wilhelm von Boldensele on 1333. It was during this time that the confusion occurred between the place of the agony and the betrayal. It is generally accepted that Jesus’s agony occurred at the Garden of Gethsemane, while his betrayal occurred at the grotto. The Garden and grotto have been used interchangeably in some depictions for either the betrayal, the agony, or both.

The grotto was bought by the Franciscans in the 17th century, however their rights to own the property remained uncertain. The use of the grotto by Eastern Orthodox Christians prevented the Franciscans from fully claiming the property as their own. However, the Eastern Orthodox Church later renounced their rights to the land in 1919. Muslims the grotto as a stable for some time; local farmers also used it as a place to store grain.

There have been various vague accounts of the Grotto of Gethsemane being the site of a ‘meal’ or supper between Christ and his apostles. It has been suggested at least once as the site of the Last Supper by the Archdeacon Theodosius. A similar suggestion also exists in the anonymous work called ‘The Jerusalem Breviary’. This belief persisted until the 15th century, and devout pilgrims used to take meals in the grotto. The idea was gradually forgotten, and the various suggested ‘suppers’ were either regarded as apocryphal or were given only minor significance.

The Structure of the Grotto

A rough estimate of the size of the Grotto of Gethsemane is some 19 metres by 10 metres square. It was situated in areas often frequented by floods, and during 1955, a great flood made it necessary to renovate and attempt to restore some damaged areas of the grotto. The renovations were directed by a Fr. Virgil Corbo between 1956 to 1957.

The original entrance of to the grotto was located on the north side, and was simply small opening about 5 metres in size. Evidence of an extension to an annexed smaller grotto can be seen. This smaller grotto probably housed an oil-press at some time. Various tell-tale signs of the old press can be seen to this day.

The original entrance was closed by the Franciscans due to constant flooding, and also because of the Church of the Assumption on 1919. Another entrance was made, this time on the north-west, and was smaller than the original one. It was only about 2 metres high.

Grotto of Gethsemane

The inside of the grotto, which also served as a chapel during the times of the Crusades, was decorated with white mosaic, which was badly damaged when it was employed as a burial site during the 5th to the late 8th centuries. So far, forty-two tombs have been discovered in the sub-soil of the grotto.

During the rise of the Frankish kingdom during 480-751 AD the grotto’s floor was repaired with flagstones of various sizes of marble and brick. The ceiling was decorated with stars while the inner sanctuary was painted with murals. Some of the faded remnants can still be seen today.

The grotto is as simple as the most bare monastic cell, and yet it exudes an aura of calm. Many people have used this small simple room of rough rock as a place of worship. Over the ages the zeal and faith of the hundreds of pilgrims who have come to worship here seem to be imbued in the very walls. The feeling that it stirs in the visitors is a very moving one.

‘And they came to a place which was named Gethsemane: and he saith to his disciples, Sit ye here, while I shall pray.’ Mark 14:32

Gethsemane itself is a garden at the foot of Mount Olivet, which is located at the Kindron Valley. The name Gethsemane comes from the Assyrian phrase Gat Smane, which means ‘oil press’. The word was later adopted into the Hebrew Gethsemani, and later into English, replacing the final letter – ‘i’ with an ‘e’.

History of Gethsemane

The location of the Garden of Gethsemane is usually ascribed according to tradition, to the lower slopes of the Mount of Olives. The exact location of the Garden remains unknown to this day. The Garden of Gethsemane is, according to Catholic tradition, the place where Jesus prayed after the Last Supper. The Agony in the Garden, which is the name for the incident which occurred there, is the first Sorrowful Mystery of the Rosary, and the Second Station of the Way of The Cross. The Eastern Orthodox Church also states that Gethsemane was the burial place of the Virgin Mary before her assumption into heaven.

The Garden of Gethsemane, as well the grotto, are some of the few remaining sacred sites which has practically remained unchanged. To walk in the grounds is to walk in the very footsteps of Jesus and to see what he saw in his lifetime on earth. To pray before the Garden is to share in his agony and to rejoice at the same feeling of comfort that God has sent to him. It is an act of remembrance for what Jesus suffered for the forgiveness of our sins. For it was in this place that he ‘fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.’ – Matthew 26:39

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