The first edible olive tree appeared on the scene around 5,000 years ago during the Bronze Age, and has become a cultural and agricultural centerpiece from that moment on. From the time the first cultivated crop bore fruit, olives have been used for a variety of purposes. Ancient greeks used it as a skin and hair treatment for good health, its oil has been used for light, cooking, and ceremonies, while its leaves have been used to crown kings. It only makes sense that that the olive tree was a major part of the New Testament. During His Agony in the Garden, Jesus Christ came to an olive garden to pray. Could these olive trees that sheltered Christ during His Agony still be standing today?
In the Biblical account of the Agony in the Garden, immediately after the Last Supper Jesus took a walk to pray. He brought three of His Apostles to the garden of Gethsemane at the foot of the famous Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. He asks the three to stay behind while He went ahead to pray under the olive trees. The name Gethsemane appears in Greek of the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Mark as Γεθσημανή (Gethsēmanē). The name is derived from the Aramaic ܓܕܣܡܢ (Gaḏ-Šmānê), meaning “oil press”.
In the Gospel of Luke, he says the Lord’s Anguish was so great that “his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground.”
Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” He took along Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to feel sorrow and distress. Then he said to them, “My soul is sorrowful even to death.* Remain here and keep watch with me.” He advanced a little and fell prostrate in prayer, saying, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet, not as I will, but as you will.” – Matthew 26:36-39
In 2012 the National Research Council of Italy conducted a study to see if any of the 8 olive trees remaining at Gethsemane today could have been the same that sheltered Jesus Christ. Testing the older parts of three tree trunks, they obtained the dates of 1092, 1166 and 1198 AD through radiocarbon dating. With DNA tests, they showed that all three of these nearly
With DNA tests, they showed that all three of these millennia old trees were spliced from one parent tree, a practice often employed to keep a lineage of trees alive. One of the researchers, Wendy Babcox, posits that the roots of these trees are much older and could be almost 2,000 years old. Olive trees possess the ability to regrow from roots alone. Along with evidence from the DNA tests, it is possible that the olive trees alive today in the garden of Gethsemane were also still standing some 2,000 years ago through splicing and continual cutting of the trees above the roots.
After the crucifixion of Christ, the garden of Gethsemane became a popular pilgrimage site for early Catholics. Notably was the Pilgrim of Bordeaux, who visited in the years 333 and 334, with his Itinerarium Burdigalense that is the earliest account of a Christian traveler’s journey throughout the Holy Land. Eusebius of Caesarea adds that the “faithful were accustomed to go there [Gethsemane] to pray.”
Today the Garden of Gethsemane, and the ancient olive trees growing there, are under the care of the Franciscans, as part of the The Church of All Nations complex, also known as the Church or Basilica of the Agony. The Franciscans utilize every part of the olives that grow in the garden; the pits are used as Rosary beads, the oil is blessed and used for the Chrism Mass on Holy Thursday at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, including the sacraments of baptism, confirmation, ordination of priests, and anointing the sick.