The Mount of Olives or Mount Olivet is one of three peaks of a mountain adjacent to Jerusalem’s Old City. The Mount was once covered with olive trees. There are several sites in this Mount where tourists, mostly pilgrims flock to.
The Church of Ascension
A part of the complex has an old Christian church and the other has an Islamic mosque built in 1620. It is traditionally believed to be the earthly spot where the ascension of Jesus into Heaven took place forty days after his resurrection.
The first church in this site was built sometime between 326 and 328 by Helena, the mother of Constantine I.
The present Crusader Era Church has an Octagonal drum and a stone dome…. added by Muslims! The entrance to the Church indicates the direction of Mecca. The church houses a slab that contains footprint like mark which is believed to be that of Jesus’.
The Church of Eleona is a 4th Century Byzantine Church. Crusaders called it the Pater Noster which means ‘Our Father”. It is traditionally believed to be the site where Christ taught the Lord’s Prayer(Our Father, who art in heaven….). It is a roof open Church and there are steps leading to a grotto where Jesus taught.
The Church area is the property of France! Aurélie de Bossi, the Princess de la Tour d’Auvergne of France rests here in a tomb she had prepared. There is also a tomb of an unknown person in the grotto which is as old as the 1st century!
The Church wall contains plaques that bear the Lord’s Prayer in over 100 different languages!!
The Pater Noster website offers translations in more than 1440 languages and dialects!
The road going down the western slope has high walls on both sides. What I saw when I looked straight was the Old Jerusalem and the glowing golden dome of the Dome of the Rock which is a very importance mosque to Muslims.
As I went down the western slope, I saw a door on the right and on its side is a writing ‘Dominus Flevit’. Seeing that name, I couldn’t guess what it was until my guide explained it.
‘Dominus Flevit’ in Latin means ‘The Lord Wept’. The Bible narrates an incident where Jesus weeps over the evil ways of Jerusalem and predicts the destruction of Jerusalem during the years to come. The Church of Dominus Flevit constructed here between 1953 and 1955 is built in the shape of a teardrop and it commemorates this incident.
I came to know that Antonio Barluzzi, an Italian Franciscan is the architect of this Church. Dominus Flevit was neither the first place nor the last of his architecture that I visited. But as I left Israel, this “Architect of the Holy Land” became someone whose talent I can’t help but admire!
The panoramic view of the Old Jerusalem through the glass window of the Church took my breath away!! The view….the cold breeze…the quiet atmosphere about the church…everything was just so heavenly!
The Kidron Valley of the Dead
Down the slope, in front of the Church, lies the Kidron Valley…a place to sleep forever…to be more precise, it is a Jewish cemetery. Looking down from Dominus Flevit area, all I could see was tombs. I came to know that there are more than 150,000 graves and it looked creepy!!
In the cemetery, there is a section called the Tombs of the Prophets where prophets like Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi of the 6th and 5th century BC are buried. There are also the tombs here of philosophers, important religious people and of Kings even of the Biblical times!
We have all heard of the ‘final days’ or the ‘Judgement Day’ in religious texts, in movies, fictional works, etc. There are a lot many of people believing that everything will take place in this Kidron Valley graves!! That’s more than creepy!!
The Church of Mary Magdalene
This is a Russian Orthodox church located at the south of the Kidron Valley. It is built in 1886 in a remarkable Russian architectural style by Tsar Alexander III of Russia.
Grand Duchess Elisabeth of Russia and her fellow nun Varvara Yakovleva are buried in this church. Likewise, Princess Alice of Battenberg(Germany) is buried here in a crypt in the Church.
The most spectacular feature about this church is it’s seven gilded onion domes. It is one of the best domes that I’ve ever seen!!
Located at the foot of the Mount of Olives, Gethsemane is a garden of about 1200 square meters in area. ‘Gethsemane’ in Hebrew means “oil press”. Oil is still pressed from the olive trees here.
I came to know of a remarkable fact about the olive trees here…. that a study conducted in 2012 by the National Research Council of Italy found that several olive trees in the garden are among the oldest known to science! There is an area in the Garden called the Latin site where there are eight olive trees that has an age above 900 years old!
In 1982, the University of California conducted a study and the carbon dating tests done on three trees gave it the dates 1092, 1166 and 1198 AD.
It is good to walk through the garden. There are stones here and there where I found people resting and some posing for photos. There are stone altars at places in the garden where pilgrims could celebrate mass and conduct prayers. I also saw a couple of graves in the garden and then I came to know that more than 40 graves have been discovered here….and that they mainly are from the 5th to 8th centuries!
The Church of All Nations
The Basilica of the Agony or the Church of All Nations is a Roman Catholic Church located next to the Garden of Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives. This Church is traditionally believed to be built on the place where Jesus is said to have prayed in agony before the roman soldiers arrested him.
Something I found so interesting about the Church is that it was built (between 1919 and 1924) using the donations from many different countries and because of this multi-national donations, the Church and its compound is seen as an international territory and that’s what gives it the name Church of “All Nations”!
The Wikipedia describes the donations this way:
The respective coat-of-arms of each donating country are incorporated into the glass of the ceiling, each in a separate, small dome, and also into the interior mosaics. The countries honored in this way are; starting from the left side, beginning with the apse: Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Mexico; in the middle of the church are commemorated: Italy, France, Spain and the United Kingdom, and to the right: Belgium, Canada, Germany, and the United States of America. The mosaics in the apses were donated by Ireland, Hungary, and Poland. The crown around the bedrock itself was a gift of Australia.
Another interesting thing is that the current church is built on the foundations of a 12th century Crusaders church which was built on the remains of a Byzantine church built in 4th century.
The church was designed by Antonio Barluzzi, the Italian architect I mentioned before.