Garden Of Gethsemane

RELI031 Jerusalem Through the Ages
Professor Lenzi
Written by: Adrienne Kim
10 December 2019



The Garden of Gethsemane is an ancient garden located in between the Temple Mount and the Mount of Olives, right underneath the Tomb of the Virgin Mary. The garden is surrounded by a patch of nature and terrain, right outside of The Old City. Although it is not within the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem, it is still referred to as an important historical site for most Christians due to the divine appointments that Jesus had encountered during the time he was there. The word Gethsemane, comes from the Hebrew word Gat Shemanin, which means “oil press”. In the Garden of Gethsemane, the olive trees there were used to grow olives and eventually be processed and pressed to make olive oil.

The Olive Trees

One of the garden’s most prominent physical features is the presence of olive trees all around Gethsemane. Research done in 2012 from the National Research Council of Italy shows that the olive trees located in the Garden of Gethsemane are one of the oldest known on record, with most of the trees’ above ground features being dated back to the middle of the 12th century, meaning that the trees are about nine-hundred years old. Due to this research, it is highly unlikely that the trees that are still standing today were still standing at the time of Christ. A legendary historian in Jerusalem by the name of Flavius Josephus writes that most of the trees were cut down by the Romans during the Siege of Jerusalem in 70 AD. The wood of the trees were used to make equipment for their siege and the garden was completely obliterated. On the other hand, the trees’ below ground features would be much more ancient due to the preservation of roots in the ground to be much more effective than the foliage and branches of the trees that are above ground. However, through further research like carbon dating, researchers were able to determine the genetic fingerprints of most of the trees in the garden. This allowed the researchers to analyze the genetic fingerprints of the trees through their ring patterns, revealing that eight of the trees that were planted had the same DNA. These eight trees were from the same origin, meaning that one large tree had branched off naturally throughout many decades to make more trees of its own DNA. This is supported by the theory that ancient Palestinian farmers would perform branch cuttings routinely, within the garden for more efficient planting and preserving of the trees in its primal form.

Practical Uses of the Olive Trees

Although the oil trees of the garden are incredibly old, oil is still pressed from eight of the ancient olive trees that serve the garden with more of a purpose than simply being a historical landmark. The trees continue to thrive even with their aged structures, which gives hope to many Christians that these trees are a symbol of eternal life, being able to undergo the toughest conditions, but still maintain a fruitful growth. The Franciscan Friars of the Custody, formed in 1217 but still active today, maintain the olive trees in the garden consistently by doing constant research and analyzation of the trees. The organization also is in charge of taking care of the sacred plants and tending to the trees to ensure their fruitful seasons as the years continue to go by. Surrounded by a group of experts within the organization, The Franciscan Friars of the Custody (FFC) also partakes in an annual practice called pruning, which is a method of deliberately cutting off branches from trees in order to maintain an aesthetic shape and sacred form that will fit the rest of the garden. This method is the reason why many of the trees prove to be very appealing to the eye for many people and is a popular visiting site for many tourists, besides its historical significance.
Harvest season for the olive trees begin around the second Saturday of October, but times vary depending on the weather that day. Harvesting itself takes around a week or two to complete, working on around two trees a day because of the intensive care that must be used when tending to these sacred fruits. Fra Diego from the FFC mentioned in the Olive Oil Times, that the harvest in 2017 yielded about 700 tons of olives, which equates to about 1,543 pounds of olives. Because the main purpose of the olives collected from the olive trees are mostly for liturgical or worship purposes, it is blessed annually on Holy Thursday during the Chrism Mass celebration at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. After it is blessed and after every Easter, the oil is then sent away to be used as sacraments throughout the remainder of the year until the next harvest and Chrism Mass. Some of the excess mass is also dispersed to local families and communities, and some even saved to make rosaries for friars.

The Agony in the Garden

The night before Jesus’ arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane is most commonly referred to as the Agony in the Garden, representing the agony and pain that Jesus endured while praying at the garden that night. According the four gospel books of the Bible, Jesus and three of his Apostles, also his disciples, took a walk to the garden after the Last Supper, which was the final meal that Jesus had with his Apostles before his death and crucifixion. Jesus’ Apostles, Peter, John, and James, went with Jesus to the garden to pray and intercede for Jesus’ fate and future. However, although Jesus urgently pressed the Apostles to pray earnestly, they ended up falling asleep despite Jesus’ exhortations. Jesus was then overcome by sadness and distraught and prayed, "My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done."1 Jesus doesn’t want this dreadful situation to happen, but if it is under God’s will, he is willing to endure the pain and the toll. He is committed to following the decree of the covenant of grace, even though he might have to make a great sacrifice and go through insurmountable amounts of pain. Jesus continued this prayer three times, while noticing between each prayer that his apostles were asleep. During this time of prayer and an earnest call for help, Jesus began to sweat blood, a medical condition called hematidrosis, which was a representation of his agony he faced during his prayer and his horrification upon the realization of betrayal.

Symbolism of the Garden

Behind the fruits of the olive trees and its physical features lie deep religious and historical symbolism, mostly for the Christian community and believers of the four gospel books of the Bible (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John). For every Christian during that time, including those who believe today, are reminded of Jesus’ living hope and passion with each olive tree that is planted in the garden. This passion of Christ references the dedication and commitment that Jesus made the night before his arrest in the garden. Jesus’ disciples, watching his agony, fear, and passion, revealed his obedience to God and the sacrifice he would make for those he loved. These ancient olive trees depict the "roots" and "generational continuity" of the Christian churches and communities of Jerusalem. Just like how these trees, at first, were planted, grown, cut down, and regrown, the first set of Christian communities also struggled to have constant seasons of growth due to large amounts of religious persecution and was not supported by religious toleration from the surrounding communities. In addition to Jesus’ feat, these trees serve to be a symbol of Christianity as a whole, as a religion, even to this day.


Website Sources
#1 Granitto, Ylenia. April 5th, 2018, The Gethsemane and Its Sacred Olive Oil. Retrieved Dec 7th 2019 From Olive Oil Times website:

#2 Experiencing the Garden of Gethsemane. Dec. 12th, 2018, Retrieved Dec 7th 2019 From Touchpoint Israel website:

#3 Hirst, Kris. K, Nov. 30, 2018, Garden of Gethsemane: History and Archaeology. Retrieved Dec 7th 2019, from ThoughtCo. website:

#4 Agony in the Garden. (n.d.). Retrieved Dec 8, 2019, from Artble website:

Academic Sources
#1 Covington, Sarah. “The Garden of Anguish: Gethsemane in Early Modern England.” The Journal of Ecclesiastical History, vol. 65, no. 2, Apr. 2014, pp. 280–308. EBSCOhost

#2 "Gethsemane." Britannica Concise Encyclopedia, Encyclopaedia Britannica, Britannica Digital Learning, 2017. Credo Reference, Accessed 08 Dec. 2019.

#3 Ludlow, Daniel H. (1992) Encyclopedia of Mormonism. New York: Macmillan

#4 Bernabei, Mauro. (2014). The age of the olive trees in the Garden of Gethsemane. S. Michele all'Adige (Ed.), Journal of Archaeological Science (pp 43-48). Trentino, Italy: Elsevier

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