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Mount of Olives

The Mount of Olives is on the eastern side of the Old City of Jerusalem separated only by the Kidron Valley and the Garden of Gethsemane which is at the foot of the mount’s western slope. The mount is actually a two mile range of mountains with three rising summits. The Mount of Olives got its name from the olive groves that used to cover the ridge. It was also the site where the high priests would make the ritual sacrifices during the period of the first and second temple.

The Mount of Olives has a colorful history dating back to the Old Testament when leaders often used the “high places” of the Mount to build Idols for worship and shrines. In 70AD the Romans used the mount which overlooks the Old City walls as their base before attacking the city. Because of the Mount of Olives’ strategic and position overlooking the Temple Mount it has always been an auspicious location and one which gives breathtaking views of the Old City.

 Jews believe that when the Messiah comes he will approach the Golden Gate to the Old City from the Mount of Olives and thus bring those buried there back to life first when he raises the dead. So the mount has been a popular burial place since ancient times, among the 150,000 graves are several revered rabbis and secular leaders.

Christian Sites on the Mount of Olives

Many significant New Testament events also occurred on the Mount of Olives and these are remembered with a number of beautiful monuments and churches on the mount.

The Church of All Nations or Basilica of Agony – At the foot of the Mount of Olives facing the Temple Mount this beautiful church is built where Jesus is thought to have come to prey on the evening of his arrest. Jesus left the Last Supper and walked to this point where he contemplated his fate in deep prayer. The Church has an exquisite gold mosaic scene of Jesus weeping over the fate of Jerusalem. The mosaic sits above columns which line the entrance to the church. This church was built with donations from several nations which each have their coat of arms incorporated into the internal decoration of the church. Incorporated into the building are the remains of a Crusader Church which previously stood here.

Mary’s Tomb – The final resting place of Jesus’ mother, Mary, is a cave cut into the rock face there is also a church in the cave. Mary is thought to have ascended to heaven from this spot and this is celebrated annually on August 15th at the Feast of the Assumption. Next to the Tomb of Mary is the Cave of Betrayal or Cave of Gethsemane where Judas is thought to have betrayed Jesus.

The Russian Church of Maria Magdalene – Also on the Mount of Olives this exquisite church features 7 gold domes, orthodox icons and traditional Russian painted decoration. The ornate church was built in 1886.

Chapel of the Ascension – is a small round Crusader structure holy to both Muslims and Christians within the chapel are footprints believed to be the footprints of Jesus made before he ascended to heaven. There is also a 17th century mosque next to the chapel which is built in the Romanesque style.

Dominus Flevit Church or The Cry of the Master or The Lord Wept – Although the present church is a modern one on the same spot Canaanite artifacts and the remains of Byzantine tombs have been found. Jesus paused at this location on his way to the Old City, here he looked out over the Temple and wept for the fate he knew awaited it. From within the church there is a stunning view of the Dome of the Rock and Old City through a large decorative window.

The Church of the Pater Noster or Sancturay of the Eleona – It was at this site that Jesus is thought to have taught his disciples the Lord’s Prayer. A 4th century church and subsequent structures were on this site as well as a Byzantine church which has been partially reconstructed. You can also see remains of a floor mosaic here and the Lord’s Prayer in over 100 languages on ceramic wall plaques.

The Tomb of Zechariah – At the foot of the Mount of Olives is actually not a tomb but a monolith – a solid structure carved out of a single piece of rock – so it was not used to bury someone in. The interesting shape of a square with carved columns topped with a pyramid shaped roof stands out from the cliff of rock near the Bnei Hariz Tomb.

Tomb of Absalom – is carved into the solid cliff of the Mount of Olives at its base. It has an unusual conical roof and square building. Absalom was King David’s son and the structure is also called Absalom’s Pillar.

Tombs of the Prophets – Towards the top of the Mount of Olives these underground tombs are arranged in 2 concentric circles with 36 burial spaces. The tombs were used repeatedly throughout history. The catacombs are thought to have been the final resting places for the Old Testament prophets Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi.

Tomb of Bnei Heriz– This family tomb is next to and connected to the Tomb of Zechariah and is recognizable by the two pillars at the entrance. Within the tomb carved out of the rock face are three chambers.

Standing at the top of the Mount of Olives looking down over the Old City of Jerusalem the views are unrivaled and not only it’s location but also the wealth of historical and religiously significant sites make the Mount of Olives a must see for anyone visiting Jerusalem.

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