Posted by: Anna | November 8, 2010

Mount of Olives

Today we walked down the Mount of Olives. Churches, churches and more churches marking the sites of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, his teaching, his agony, and betrayal.  The Mount of Olives is located right next to the walled Old City of Jerusalem. At the end of the day, I am amazed at how many sights we saw in a short period of time walking down a simple street. I haven’t had enough time to process it all; it does not seem real. Every stop is amazing in its own right, and could be the highlight of a day. Taken together, it’s too much. I will do my best to share what we’ve seen.

Here we are, posing for a picture on the way down the Mount of Olives

We took a taxi to the top, and started at the lookout point which gives great views of the Old City. This is the Israel we came for.

Jews believe the Messiah will arrive in Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives; Jews buried here will be among the first resurrected upon the Messiah’s arrival. Beating the traffic jam, I guess. There are thousands of graves dotting the bone-dry hillside.

The first stop we made after the lookout point was the Chapel of Christ’s Ascension, which was the first built to commemorate his ascension in 392. It has had improvements since then (only a few – you can see it is spare in design) by the Crusaders in the 11th Century and Salah al-Din in the 12th Century. Pigeons flutter around inside, with their calls echoing in the quiet. It is a peaceful beginning.

The second stop was the Church of the Pater Noster, founded in the fourth century. It is believed to be the site where Jesus revealed that the Second Temple of Jerusalem would be destroyed (and it was) and his Second Coming. It is also the place where he first taught the Lord’s Prayer, or Pater Noster. One of the most interesting things about this church is the courtyard, which is filled with mosaics showing the Lord’s Prayer translated into pretty much any language you can think of, including Bengali and Cherokee. There is even Braille for several languages. This was probably my personal favorite.

Courtyard of Pater Noster

Our Father, in Zulu (example of the many languages)

The Sanctuary of Dominus Flevit was the next stop, only a few steps down the road. It was erected in 1955 to mark the spot where Jesus wept for Jerusalem; the name means “The Lord wept.” The church itself is shaped like a tear drop. It has a beautiful window with a stunning view of the Dome of the Rock.

View of the Dome of the Rock from inside

We next passed the Russian Church of Mary Magdalene, but it is only open on Tuesday and Thursday, so we didn’t get to visit. We admired the golden onion domes from the outside.

The most impressive of the churches was the Church of All Nations and the Garden of Gethsemane. This church has been repeatedly built and destoyed since the fourth century; the current church dates to right after WWI. The facade mosaic is beautiful, and with the setting sun shining on the gold tiles, it really sparkled. Unfortunately, it was full of tour groups, posing in a silly manner with the Rock of Agony, where Christ was so impassioned that he sweated blood. You have to admire the patience of the monks working in the church to be in a holy environment filled with constant camera flashes and hordes of people.  The garden outside the church is where Jesus spent his last night in prayer and was betrayed. Eight olive trees stand as the silent observers to his betrayal in the garden still today.

Garden of Gethsemane

The last stop actually on the Mount of Olives was the Tomb of the Virgin Mary and Grotto of Gethsemane. Two locations seem to compete for which is the actual location, right next to each other. One is filled with hanging lamps and a small grotto, while the other is a tidy little chapel run by Franciscans. This one was impossible for me to appreciate because of the crowds.

Our last stop is actually back within the city walls – the Church of St. Anne, commemorating the birth of Mary. It includes the grotto where she was born, set up as a small chapel. A few nuns went down there together as I was leaving to set up a small nativity set (not sure if it was Mary’s nativity or Jesus’) and have a small private ceremony. In Yellowstone, one park ranger asked us what park rangers do on vacation – the answer was “visit other parks.” I think that’s what nuns do on vacation – visit other holy sites. Just an uninformed guess, but it was interesting. Anyway, this church is one of the best preserved examples of Crusader architecture because it was turned into an Islamic theological school during the time the Muslims ruled – you can still see the Arabic inscription above the door.

Outside of the current Church of St. Anne

You can see the Arabic inscription more clearly in this photo

It is also known for its acoustics, and when I was inside, there were pilgrims singing hymns in a foreign language (couldn’t tell which one in song). In the gardens of the church are some really interesting excavations, showing the different architecture and layers of Jerusalem. On the bottom you can see a Roman water cistern. Next, you can see a Byzantine (2nd or 3rd century) church built to commemorate Mary’s birth, and then the another church used those walls as the basis of the 5th or 6th century church. Also a part of the ruins are the Pool of Bethesda, where Jesus healed a man waiting to enter the healing waters.

Here you can see where the stone changes is where the builders of the second church re-used the stone work of the first church.

Many prayers later, I am blessed for this experience. I would like to come back, to have more time so that I could visit my favorites at odd times to have peace and quiet for reflection and prayer. One of the things I miss the most on the trip is quiet time to myself, and the idea of quiet time inside such monumental places is an opportunity I hope I will have later in life.

As always, you can see more pictures on our Flickr page here.


  1. What a beautiful way to really see the “start” of our faith, to reflect on what Jesus did, his agony and betrayal — things that the rest of us just know by faith and the teachings of the church — you got to experience the place first hand. I am very touched that you got to pray in a place that is so holy — I wonder if your prayers where heard by God any louder there than anywhere else in the world? Another beautiful and moving post — thank you!


  2. Similarly to “The Lord Wept” is a statue near the Oklahoma bombing memorial in Oklahoma City that really touched my heart when I saw it. It is a statue of Jesus facing away from the bombing site on the grounds of a church across the street that is titled “And Jesus Wept”. It must be an ode to Sanctuary you visited. In so many posts I am amazed by the linkage you can see to things much closer to home. At least I do. Wish I could walk where you are walking.

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