The Church of All Nations, Gethsemane

When Barluzzi returned to Jerusalem in 1918 the new Father Custos, Ferdinando Diotallevi, not only commissioned him to go ahead with the basilica on Mount Tabor but also appointed him to design a church at Gethsemane at the same time.

"Work on the foundations had already begun when, in 1920, a column was found two metres beneath the medieval floor, together with fragments of a magnificent mosaic. The architect therefore immediately removed the new foundations and undertook excavations. After the Byzantine church was brought to light, it was clear that the plans for the new church would have to be altered. Work subsequently continued from April 1922 to June 1924 when the new basilica was consecrated."

It stands beside the Garden of Gethsemane, and is called the Church of All Nations as it was funded by Catholics from around the world. Like the basilica on Mount Tabor it stands on the site of a fourth century Byzantine church, built about 380 by Theodosius I, and a Crusader one; it incorporates remains from the earlier building.

Gerard Bushell wrote;

"In his great church on the summit of Mount Tabor he had used to the full the element of light. In Gethsemane he dimmed the light almost to the point of obscurity, to bring to mind the near-night of the soul which Jesus entered there…. Large bare sandstone rock in front of the altar, traditionally the stone on which Jesus knelt to pray during his agony….. great iron wreath, in the shape of a crown of thorns [by Geradi], which surrounds the rock…. His innocence and helplessness is symbolised by a white dove caught in the spikes and slowly dying in agony… Six monolithic columns support the ceiling which is in the form of little domes adorned with olive branches and the stars of a clear night sky. Through the alabaster windows.. filters a violet light, the liturgical colour of mourning and penance."

As at Mount Tabor the architecture itself interprets the mood, and begins to tell its story even before it is made explicit in paintings and texts.

Bushell continues,

" Large mosaic above the altar… graphically interprets the central story of Gethsemane… by Pietro D’Achiardi."  The side murals are the work of Mario Barberis.

The outline and columns of the Byzantine church are delineated in black marble. The Crusader church was on a slightly different alignment.

Externally the pediment over the entrance is the most notable feature in an otherwise plain building of rose coloured stone from Bethlehem. It is best seen from across the Kidron Valley and has a mosaic designed by Giulio Bargellini depicting people working and suffering surrounding a sympathetic Christ, placing their trust in Him. Above is a cross flanked by two stags (Ps 42v1) Statues of the four evangelists stand on magnificent Corinthian columns in front of the portico.

The church is entered through a single bronze door decorated with the Tree of Life springing from a cross.




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