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Kidron Valley: St. Stephen, Tomb of the Virgin, Gethsemane - March 22, 2004


Click on the photos to enlarge.

Going downhill from Lions Gate into the Kidron Valley, we find the place where, according to one tradition, St. Stephen was martyred (Acts 7:55-60). Not long ago, the Greek Orthodox built a new Church next to the traditional rock of the martyrdom of St. Stephen.

Plan: 1. Tomb of the Virgin; 2. Grotto of Gethsemane; 3. Garden of Olives; 4. Basilica of the Agony.

Entrance to the Tomb of the Virgin Mary. This is what is left of the edifice built by the Crusaders in the first half of 12th cent. A.D. To the right of the façade you see a corridor leading to the Grotto of Gethsemane.

The Crusader stairway leads to the Byzantine crypt, where the tomb is found on the east wing.

The ancient builders made this small chapel (the Edicule), by cutting off the tomb from the rock around it.

Inside the Edicule, on its east side, you can still see the stone bench of the original tomb.

Remains of the architectural decoration from the Crusader Period survive on the outer side of the two small openings.

In the deeper part of the crypt, behind the Tomb of the Virgin and high above the apse, a small window sheds some light into the dark place below.

Inside the Grotto of Gethsemane, ancient pilgrims were used to recall Judas' betrayal and Jesus' capture (Mt 26:47-56 par.). The Agony of Jesus, the Last Supper, and the Washing of the Disciples' Feet were also at times commemorated there.

The original cave was exploited as an agricultural storage area or as an oil-press; subsequently, it was enlarged to be made suitable for religious congregations. The rock ceiling was plastered and painted, mostly at the times of the Crusaders.

Remains of a mosaic floor related to the Byzantine shrine found in earlier pilgrim's descriptions were discovered following restorations after the flooding of 1955.

We come out of the Grotto and proceed towards the south and we find the Garden of Olives. Pilgrims from the 16th cent. onwards refer to these olive trees as already "very ancient".
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Next to the garden stands the present Church of the Agony. The Church has been built in the twenties of the 19th cent. upon the remains of a 4th cent. basilica discovered there in the course of construction work.

The Church is sizeable and decorated with beautiful mosaic walls; it is a deliberate choice to leave the interior of the Church in dim lighting. In front of the altar lies the bedrock recalling the scene of Christ's agony and prayer on Holy Thursday (cf. Lk 22:39-46 par.).

The mosaic floor of the present building is an imitation of the mosaic floor of the 4th cent. edifice. The architect (A. Barluzzi) chose to put some conventional elements in the floor's design to make evident the original plan of the ancient church, which was said to be "elegant" by the pilgrim Egeria.


Outside and to the south of the present Church, part of the Crusader's basilica can still be seen. The Crusader's edifice appears to have been built approximately on the same spot, but on a plan rotated clockwise by few degrees with respect to the earlier (and present) Churches.

Thereafter we leave Gethsemane and move downward along the Kidron valley. Thereby we come upon some ancient tombs from the 2nd-1st cent. B.C. which are magnificently carved out of the bedrock.

The first tomb is called, "the Tomb of Absalom" or "Absalom Pillar" (cf. 2Sam 18:18).


Then comes the "Benei Hezir" priestly family Tomb, which is known also under the name of "St. James". The last one is said to be "the Tomb of Zacharias". Here our visit comes to an end.

Click on the photos to enlarge.


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