Gethsemane in the historical sources
The places linked to Jesus’ agony and arrest have been mentioned since ancient times.
In his Onomasticon (“On the Place-Names in Holy Scripture”) Eusebius referred to Gethsemane, noting that it was at the foot of the Mount of Olives and that “even today the faithful flock there to pray”. Thus, by the end of the third century the site was being visited by Christians, who made special prayers there, a phenomenon also mentioned by the Anonymous Pilgrim of Bordeaux in 333 and by St. Cyril in 350.
The pilgrim Egeria, at the end of the 4th century, was the first to speak of a new church built on the slopes of the Mount of Olives, the place where Jesus prayed before the Passion. This is the “elegant” church described by her in her journal along with the liturgies that were used beside the mountain beginning the afternoon of Holy Thursday: after spending the night in prayer, at sunrise on Friday the crowd of faithful descended to Gethsemane where, by the light of torches, the Gospel passage describing Jesus' arrest was read aloud.
The accounts from the end of the fourth century enable one to date the construction of the sacred building in the reign of Theodosius I (379-395 AD). The Annals of Eutychius, the Patriarch of Jerusalem, written in the 10th century, confirm not only that the construction of the church was the work of Theodosius but also that it was destroyed in 614 when Chosroes II entered Jerusalem and tore down many of the churches and monasteries. Based on the same excavations which brought to light the remains of the Byzantine church, it is now clear that there was a major fire in the building which probably was the direct cause of its destruction.
The situation regarding the ruins of the church before the Crusader period remains uncertain. Worship on the site continued, as confirmed by the Georgian Lectionary (7th-8th centuries). The Chronicle of Theophanes Confessor (c. 758-818) mentions that Caliph Abd al-Malik (685-705) wanted to remove the columns from the church of Gethsemane, presumably to make use of them in the mosque being constructed during those years in Mecca. A noble Christian dissuaded him from carrying out this plan.
Brief information is also contained in the Life of St. Sabas by Cyril of Scythopolis, which speaks of “Holy Gethsemane” where the goldsmith Romulus was archdeacon in 532. Two centuries later St. Willibald, in his Itinerarium describing his journey of 724-726, makes reference to the existence of a church. Thus there was still a church on the site, but it is likely that it was in ruins.
News from Gethsemane resumes at the beginning of the twelfth century, during the Crusader period: the Anglo-Saxon pilgrim Sæwulf (1102), the Ukrainian abbot Daniel (1106) and also the anonymous author of the Gesta Francorum(“Deeds of the Franks”, c. 1100) speak of the simple oratory at Gethsemane, dedicated to St. Savior.
The Crusader reconstruction of the church began in the second half of the 12th century.
As a first step the Crusaders built the Abbey of St. Mary in the Valley of Jehoshaphat above the Tomb of the Virgin Mary. The rich abbey was left to the care of the Benedictine monks by Godfrey de Bouillon and endowed with a convent and hospital.
The rocky cave, described by the Russian abbot Daniel in 1106 as the one in which Jesus was handed over to the Jews for thirty pieces of silver, was transformed into a chapel by the Crusaders and painted with frescoes of a starry sky and scenes from the Gospels.
At the site of the oratory of St. Savior, John of Würzburg in 1165 tells of having found a new church dedicated to the Savior, with three different rocks commemorating the triple prayer of Jesus in the garden. And in 1172 the pilgrim Theodoricus recounts that Crusader architects had been involved in the construction of the Church of the Savior.
This church was the spiritual center of the Confraternity of Charity that had been founded to collect alms for the hospital of Our Lady of Josaphat [Jehoshaphat] at the abbey of the Tomb of the Virgin.
Soon thereafter the church was partially torn down by Saladin’s army, which also destroyed the abbey at the Tomb of the Virgin, as recounted by the English Cistercian abbot Rudolph: only the lower church of St. Mary in the Valley of Jehoshaphat was spared, on account of the Islamic devotion to the mother of the prophet Jesus.
As a result of a restoration, whose existence we are aware of due to archaeological excavations, the building consecrated to the Savior continued in existence, although deprived of its wealth. Throughout the period of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem and beyond, the church remained a destination for pilgrimages, the last evidence for this coming from a Catalan pilgrim in 1323. Since that time the bare rock, which today can be seen behind the church, has been venerated with the name of “Rock of the Apostles”, in memory of the place where the disciples fell asleep during Jesus' agony.
In the autumn of 1891, due to a series of fortuitous circumstances, the walls of an apse and several mosaic fragments in thick tessera were discovered on land adjacent to the Garden of Olives.
Systematic excavations were able to begin in March 1909, carried out by fra Luc Thonessen. The results of the excavations convinced Father Orfali, the initiator of Franciscan archaeology in the Holy Land, that the remains were those of the 12th century Crusader church built on the place ascribed by tradition to the “Agony” and referred to in medieval sources as “church of the Savior” or “church of the Savior’s Prayer”.
The architect in charge of the construction works for the modern church at Gethsemane, Antonio Barluzzi, subsequently made a sensational discovery while excavating the deep foundations of the new building: two meters below the level of the medieval church were the remains of an even older church.
This was in fact the Byzantine-era church in Gethsemane described by Egeria and which she considered to be “elegant”. As a result of this discovery, and as suggested by Barluzzi himself, the Custody of the Holy Land designed the new church in Gethsemane on the basis of the older (Byzantine) church.
The Crusader church
The imposing walls of the church, which were extraordinarily thick (2.35 meters), were covered by a layer of debris that had built up over the centuries.
Once the debris was removed the Crusader church reemerged, with its floor plan of a central nave separated from the two lateral aisles by rows of three cruciform pillars, with the nave and aisles terminating in semicircular apses. The exterior of the largest apse had a polygonal form.
The imposing walls had been nearly completely destroyed and many of its stones were probably reused in later constructions. Marks left by medieval stonecutters can still be seen on a number of the stones, marks that had been used for fitting the blocks or for identifying those who had worked at the building site or, in some cases, for indicating the quarries from which the blocks had come for purposes of making payments. The entrance door in the façade was 1.80 meters wide, and an access step was found along with part of the external pavement belonging to the church courtyard. A marble column was discovered among the debris covering the pavement of the courtyard.
The presbytery, where the altar stood, had been built in the area of the nave and extended to the center of the church. Formed by a natural platform 63 cm above the level of the floor, it was surrounded by a perimeter wall. Three steps in the nave permitted direct access to the presbytery, while additional steps on its northern and southern sides, near the apses, allowed lateral access. At the center of the presbytery the bare rock rose approximately 10 cm, carefully formed into a regular shape on its sides. Natural rock could also be seen in the north apse, while in the south apse the rock had been irregularly cut and served as a foundation for the walls of the apse.
The pillars, nearly all of which were plundered, had been of cruciform shape above a square base, with half-columns projecting on each side. From several blocks that were recovered, and from traces left in the floor during the removal of the pillars, it has been possible to deduce their original form.
A restoration, which took place at a time that cannot be identified precisely, involved a renovation of the pavement and strengthening the pillars. The pavement that has been discovered was made from stone cubes of coarse tesserae, alternating with irregular slabs of marble of various colors and dimensions; in some cases the marble fragments, coming from ancient slabs that had been reutilized, preserve traces of Greek and Arabic inscriptions or of sculptural work. During this renovation the original pavement, which had probably been entirely in the form of marble slabs, was replaced. The cruciform pillars were encased within a rough masonry structure having an octagonal form. The walls with Crusader decorations were also covered and whitewashed.
A Crusader tomb was found outside the polygonal wall of the principal apse, containing an intact ossuary. Other Christian tombs were found inside the church. In one a skeleton and a small copper cross was preserved, in another a female skeleton with rings and part of a shroud, and in a third a skeleton and a terra cotta pot.
The few architectural elements recovered from the excavations convinced Father Orfali that the pillars had supported low vaulted arches. Along with fragments of an architrave and brackets, a small column was found, leading to the conclusion that there had been mullioned windows on the façade and sides.
The high quality of the architectural and decorative elements suggests that the Romanesque church had rich French patrons who during the Crusader period provided for the construction of the Church of the Savior. The church was the spiritual center of the Confraternity of Charity, which collected funds for the hospital of Our Lady of Josaphat adjoining the abbey of the Tomb of the Virgin.
The medieval restoration of the building, well-documented from the excavations, reveals the impoverishment of building techniques and the limited resources available for the restoration. With the defeat of the Crusaders and the abandonment of Jerusalem by the Franks, the Church of the Savior undoubtedly suffered heavy damage that, in all probability, was repaired during the restoration: despite its decline the building surived, as recounted by medieval pilgrims, at least until the beginning of the 14th century.
The Byzantine church
In October 1919 the Custody of the Holy Land placed the first stone for the construction of the new church. A number of very particular circumstances allowed one to posit the existence of an even older structure, e.g., the rock that rose in the middle of the choir had traces of chisel marks with a different orientation from that of the Crusader church, suggesting that they had come from an earlier construction.
When the foundation works began, the excavations for the foundation of a pillar brought to light the remains of a mosaic two meters below the level of the medieval church. It was immediately decided to begin new archaeological excavations which took place from 19 April 1922 to 1924, when the new church was consecrated.
The orientation of the Byzantine church was significantly rotated towards the northeast in comparison to that of the medieval Crusader church: according to Father Vincent, who published an article on the excavations in the second volume of “Jerusalem Nouvelle”, the decision to change the orientation of the (larger) Crusader church had been determined by the slope of the rocks descending from the Mount of Olives. For the same reason, the side of the façade was supported by a series of supporting walls and a cistern was made inside the atrium, which was raised above the level of the road in front.
A natural rock formation formed the foundations of the central apse and extended to the nave. It was included in the presbytery. This rock rose 35 cm and probably was exposed to the veneration of the faithful, as a witness to Jesus’ agony at Gethsemane. The remains of the rock were discovered bearing evident traces of the veneration of pilgrims, who had taken fragments of it as a relic. The events that led to the destruction of the church also undoubtedly caused damages to this venerated rock.
The Byzantine church was of modest dimensions, measuring externally 25.50 meters by 16.35 meters, and based on the assessment of the pilgrim Egeria must have been very “elegant”. Its harmonic proportions would have provided the church with a measure of equilibrium. The thickness of the perimeter walls was also modest, approximately 60 cm.
The interior consisted of a nave and two aisles, separated by two rows of seven columns: the width of the nave was 7.82 meters, that of the aisles 3.76 meters. All three ended in semi-circular apses.
The smooth columns of the nave were topped by Corinthian capitals with acanthus leaves that stood out prominently and probably with a cross above the volutes (spiral scrolls), in a style resembling more the Constantinan one of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre than the mature Byzantine. The shafts of the columns had a diameter of 51 cm.
Externally, the side apses were contained within the straight wall, while the central one was extradosed (passing beyond the perimeter of the wall). At the rear of the church vertical walls were cut in the natural rock formation so as to set the apses apart. Along the external perimeter of the church a canal was dug to channel the waters that in winter descended to the base of the mountain. To make best use of this resource the water channels directed the water into cisterns that had been constructed in front of the façade, beneath the atrium.
The church floor was covered by splendid mosaics, which have been preserved particularly in the south aisle and between the columns. On the floor can be seen traces of a violent fire, perhaps the one that destroyed the church. Based on literary sources, scholars have been able to date the event to the year 614, when the Persians entered Jerusalem and demolished a large number of churches.
The mosaics display geometric and floral motifs: one motif with intertwined bands served as a frame for geometric squares decorated with diamonds and, in the center of the panels, a bunch of flowers decorated with a cross. The motifs, on a white background, were made using turquoise, red, yellow and black tesserae.
The few fragments of mosaics preserved in the nave display a rich floral decoration on a black background. The walls would have also been covered with mosaics, since a number of glazed mosaic tiles have been found.
In front of the building, which faces the Kidron Valley along the road running north-south, were stairs leading to the open atrium that was surrounded by porticoes supported by columns on both sides and in front of the façade. The porticoes on the two sides led to two large rooms, one to the north, the other to the south, both having floors paved with elegant mosaics. In front of the large room to the south was a smaller one with an olive press.
In the atrium and around the church several tombs were discovered while, clearly distinct from these, three special burial vaults surrounded by mosaic pavements were discovered in the north apse. In all likelihood, these latter tombs were built for three distinguished people, perhaps clerics, who were buried in a privileged position within the venerated place. In one tomb an elongated iron cross, characteristic of the Eastern liturgy, was found. It should in fact be noted that the entire area of the Mount of Olives and the Kidron Valley, from the Bronze Age to the present day, has been a preferred location for burial grounds.
The acquisition of Gethsemane and the Garden of the olive trees
The present Franciscan property in Gethsemane forms part of the acquisitions made by the Franciscan Custody since the 17th century.
Prior to the archaeological excavations and the construction of the church, part of the grove at Gethsemane was cultivated land where the ancient olive trees were growing, while the remainder was barren and covered with the remains of the Crusader church that had been destroyed. A column, placed above the remains of the Crusader apse, was high venerated by pilgrims: it was known to Latin pilgrims as “The Kiss of Judas” and to Easterners as “Pater Imon” (Our Father), alluding to Jesus' prayer in the garden.
Near the column was a rocky area known as the “Rock of the Apostles” which, according to tradition, was the bare stone on which the Apostles slept while Jesus, not far away, was praying.
The acquisition of the area of Gethsemane, which also included the green area on the other side of the road, along the Kidron Valley, was a long and complex operation which can be summarized in 29 dates between 9 November 1661 and March 1905 when, for 57,000 francs, the Armenians ceded the land to the south of the Garden. The properties of the Custody, both the Grotto in the possession of the Franciscans since 1361 and the garden at Gethsemane, were inscribed in the Imperial Ottoman land registry on 14 December 1903.
The story of the acquisition of the Garden of the Olives, purchased using funds donated by two noble Catholic brothers, Paul and Jacob Grancovich from Olovo (near Sarajevo) is a very unusual one. It was possible to acquire 18 “qirats” (parcels of land) out of a total of 24. The garden had belonged to different owners but had been managed by the “wakf” of the Salahie school, an Islamic religious foundation based in the Church of St. Anne near St. Stephen’s Gate, to which since 1662 the Franciscans had been paying an annual tax to ensure that others would not buy the adjoining lands. As citizens of the Ottoman Empire, the two brothers were able to carry out the transaction, acquiring the garden for a final price of 200 piasters, although in the official purchase document the price was certified to be only 90 piasters.
Once the property had been acquired, and to protect the olive trees that according to tradition dated from the time of Jesus, in 1868 the Franciscans replaced the approximately one-meter high enclosing wall with a higher one, which was rebuilt again in 1959.
The not very simple story of the nineteenth-century wall is described in the account by Father Camillo da Rutigliano, who was at that time the Secretary of the Holy Land.
In 1872 fourteen terracotta panels made in Naples displaying the Stations of the Cross were placed around the wall, and in that same year a room was built for the Franciscan who was responsible for looking after the place and caring for the eight olive trees. In 1879, a bas-relief of Jesus Christ praying in the garden was placed outside the enclosure, the work of the Venetian artist Giovanni Torretti, donated by the Venetian family Paolucci to the then-Custos Father Cipriano.
Through the exhibition of these works, while awaiting the reconstruction of the church, the Franciscans firmly assumed the custody of Gethsemane, thus assuring its veneration by pilgrims for the centuries to come.
The construction of the church of Gethsemane
Father Custos Ferdinando Diotallevi (1918-1924) is remembered, among other things, for the construction of the churches at Gethsemane and on Mount Tabor. The construction of the church of Gethsemane was to see the involvement of a range of figures who were active in Palestine at the beginning of the twentieth century, from different religious as well as political backgrounds.
The discovery in 1891 of the ancient Crusader ruins of the Church of the Savior at Gethsemane provided the basis for the construction of a new church. The initial desire to reconstruct the church soon ran into a roadblock due to the presence on the Franciscan property of the column known as the “Kiss of Judas”, on account of which the Greek and Armenian Orthodox refused to waive their right of passage allowing Eastern Christians to pray at the site commemorating Jesus' prayer in the garden.
With the end of the period of the support of the Tsar to the Greeks, new obstacles arose to the Custody’s plan to construct a new church in Gethsemane. The first of these was the intention expressed by the archbishop of Toulouse, Mgr. Jean-Augustin Germain, to build a “French National Temple” on the Mount of Olives dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. On the advice of the Propaganda Fide, Custos Diotallevi wrote to the archbishop of Toulouse attempting to dissuade him from carrying out this plan, and inviting him instead to support the reconstruction of the church of Gethsemane to be carried out by the Franciscans.
Meanwhile, the Custody carried out all of the operational steps necessary for starting the project: the task of designing the new church was given to the Italian engineer and architect Antonio Barluzzi who managed, not without great effort, to obtain the permission of the Greeks to move the “Kiss of Judas” column beyond the area of the foundations of the medieval church. Despite the difficult economic situation in which the Custody found itself, the Minister General of the Order, Serafino Cimino, assured Diotallevi that there would be no lack of financial support for the construction of the new sanctuaries.
On 17 October 1919, on the occasion of the seven hundredth anniversary of the founding of the Custody of the Holy Land, Cardinal Filippo Giustini, Protector of the Order of Friars Minor and papal legate in Palestine, placed the first stone for the new sanctuary in Gethsemane.
Despite the fact that Pope Benedict XV was supporting the Custody’s project, Archbishop Germain of Toulouse refused to give up on his idea of building a church on the Mount of Olives. The French government had been given the land believed to be lying above the remains of the Constantinian Church of the Eleona, the present-day Pater Noster, and this was the place where the great church was supposed to be erected, with the first stone laid on 2 January 1920. The British, the mandatory power in Palestine, did not look favorably on this French initiative that was based on the supremacy of the French protectorate over the Palestinian territories. In any event, the construction was not destined for success, and seven years later the works were definitively suspended for lack of funds.
The British Governor of Jerusalem, Ronald Storrs, did not provide any support for the Franciscan project, for reasons linked both to his Protestant faith and his aesthetic sense. On 19 July 1920 the British High Commissioner for Palestine Herbert Samuel ordered that all works be suspended. Meanwhile, the sensational discovery of the “entire foundations” of the church from the second half of the fourth century, the one seen by Egeria and destroyed by the Persians, allowed the Custody to maintain its hopes of carrying out the works to a successful conclusion. Prof. John Garstang, Director of the Palestinian Department of Antiquities, issued a favorable opinion for carrying out excavations.
This discovery led to a great deal of agitation on the part of the Greeks who in October 1920, on the pretext of an opening made in the wall enclosing the Franciscan property at Gethsemane, appealed to the Mandatory Government and violent clashes ensued. The works were suspended and the awkward mediation by the Latin Patriarch was of little assistance. The Greeks asserted their right to absolute ownership of the site of Gethsemane and the future church.
A month and a half later, thanks to the diplomatic activities of the Custos, the works at Gethsemane were able to recommence. The construction of the external wall and the new door once again stirred up the Greeks who, armed with sticks, came to Gethsemane and destroyed the works that had been carried out and attempted to occupy the land. After hours of tension an accord was reached which allowed the continuation of the excavations by the Franciscans under the supervision of the Department of Antiquities.
The obstacles were slowly being removed, partly due to dissensions among the Greeks who during this period were less than unanimous in their support of their patriarch Damianos, generally considered to be too weak in terms of standing up to the British in general and, in the specific case of Gethsemane, to the Franciscans.
Permission to proceed with the new project designed by Barluzzi for the construction of the church was not received until 6 January 1922. It stipulated the eventual repositioning of the “Kiss of Judas” column along the external wall of the Franciscan property, in order to permit free access by the Orthodox faithful who came to venerate it. Over time this “right-of-way”, and other claimed rights of the Greeks to the Franciscan property, were replaced by a bilateral agreement.
In the end, and due in part to the birth of the magazine Terra Santa which spread the news about Gethsemane around the world, economic support for the project arrived from numerous Catholic countries, on account of which the church is now called the Church of All Nations.
Thanks to the rapid work of four hundred laborers, the inauguration of the church at Gethsemane was able to take place on 15 June 1924 in front of numerous ecclesiastical and civil authorities. In order to allow Custos Diotallevi to officiate at the inauguration of the churches of Gethsemane and Tabor, his term as Custos was extended for six months beyond the six years he had already served.
The ownership of Mary’s Tomb and the Grotto of the Betrayal
UA firman (Ottoman decree) issued in 1636 declared that the Franciscans had been the owners of Mary’s Tomb since ancient times. Between 1361 and 1363, in fact, both Queen Joanna of Naples and Peter IV of Aragon had done their utmost with the Mameluke Sultan of Egypt to obtain Mary’s Tomb for the Franciscans. Their intervention had a positive result: the 1377 Statutes of the Holy Land prescribed that the Friars would each Saturday celebrate Holy Mass at the Tomb of the Virgin, celebrations also mentioned by the Italian pilgrim Giorgio di Guccio Gucci in 1384.
The possession of Mary’s Tomb by the Franciscans and their exclusive right to celebrate Holy Mass there on a daily basis was confirmed in decrees of the Ottoman sultans until 1847, but was definitively annulled several years later following a firman issued in 1853, which reflected the fact that in practice they were unable to celebrate there.
In fact, in 1757 a number of sanctuaries had already been taken over by the Greek Orthodox, among these being Mary’s Tomb, which was never returned. As a result, the Franciscan presence at the site was restricted, and the Franciscans were prevented from reestablishing their rights due to the intervention of Russia on behalf of the Greek Orthodox.
Today the Tomb of the Virgin is under the guardianship of the Greek and Armenian Orthodox and represents, together with Bethlehem, and the churches of the Holy Sepulchre and the Ascension, the fourth Holy Place regulated by the Status Quo. The Status Quo established that the Franciscans could continue to carry out a solemn procession there only once per year, on the occasion of the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the 15th of August.
In contrast to Mary’s Tomb, the Grotto of the Betrayal, located to the right of the entrance to the Tomb, has remained the property of the Franciscans. As for the Tomb, the presence of the friars dates back to the 14th century. In 1803 they obtained permission from Sultan Selim III to place a door at the entrance for which they would keep the key. This door has allowed the preservation of this place of prayer.
Excavations in the Grotto of Gethsemane
October 1956 − March 1957
Following a major flood on 23 November 1955 the Custody of the Holy Land initiated restoration works in the Grotto of the Betrayal. This provided an opportunity for Father Virgilio Corbo to investigate the area, leading to a number of interesting discoveries. His studies, published in 1965, shed considerable light on the various transformations that had taken place over the centuries.
At the time of Jesus the landscape of the Mount of Olives consisted of various natural caves, keeping in mind that the adjacent Tomb of the Virgin was itself originally a cave.
The initial entrance to the Grotto was on the north wall, to the right of the present entrance, and the interior consisted of the central part of the current space together with an area where the altar is now located, along with a second smaller cave to the south that was reopened during the works. The vault of the cave was supported by four natural rock pillars, three of which still remain.
The cave was provided with a reservoir of water: a cistern located in the northwest corner, to the right of the present entrance, was linked to a smaller basin where, via a system of water channels, rainwater was collected and decanted before being stored in the cistern.
According to Father Corbo, there was an olive press in the depression to the east, where the altar is now located. The arm of the press was fixed to a hole in the wall that is still visible today. The water in the cave may also have been used to dilute the oil, allowing it to flow more easily through the collection areas. The relatively small dimensions of the area, however, raise some doubts about this hypothesis.
Beginning probably in the fourth century the cave was transformed into a rock church, and shortly thereafter began to be used for funerary purposes. An ambulatory was created along the southern and western walls, while light entered through an opening in the roof. The construction of the Church of Mary’s Tomb at the end of the fourth century blocked the original access, which was then moved towards the northwest.
Beginning in the fifth century numerous tombs were created in the interior. Arcosolium (“bench” type) tombs were also carved out of the walls of the cistern, and the floor was structured with small walls in different areas for the tombs and paved with mosaic, with an inscription to the right of the present entrance of which two words from an invocation in Greek can still be seen: KE ANAPAUS(ON), Lord, give us rest.
The burial area, created by digging through the white mosaic floor, consisted of 42 tombs from both the Byzantine and Crusader periods, which in some cases were reused on later occasions. A number of burial inscriptions were found during the works, some in Greek and others in Kufic script. The only part of the burial area that has been preserved is that of the presbytery, where today the altar is located. There are also various graffiti from Byzantine times left by the faithful on the vault of the cave.
The cave was embellished during the Crusader period with roof paintings, of which traces remain of the stars and the Gospel cycle which decorated the presbytery, as well as part of an inscription. The repeated floods and general lack of care caused significant damage over the years to the plaster. Based on the descriptions left by the pilgrim John of Würzburg and on iconographic studies, it has been hypothesized that the pictorial cycle in the presbytery, of which only traces of clothing, halos and an angel’s wing remain, originally consisted of three scenes: Christ’s prayer in the Garden, Christ with the Apostles, and the Angel comforting the Savior.
During a recent restoration of the vault, carried out on the occasion of Jubilee 2000, the plaster was cleaned and numerous graffiti left by pilgrims, both during and after the Crusader period, can now be seen above the pictures.
The present access has undergone modifications but remains essentially that created in 1655 when an opening was made between the two supporting walls of the terraces above.