Friday, May 29, 2015


With the exception of three years in Salt Lake and three years in San Diego, I've spent my life in areas dominated by orchards. At the young age of thirteen, my very first job was picking cherries in orchards a few miles from my house. We were paid five cents a pound, and on a good day we could pick 100-120 pounds of cherries. ($5.00 or $6.00 for a half-day of work. Hmm, that's about the same as I get paid to teach college-level writing if my grading time is factored in.)
In my teens, I worked in the cherry-sorting plant in the summer, picking branches, leaves, and disgusting green hornworms off a conveyor belt loaded with pie cherries that had been shaken off the trees and were destined to become cherry pie filling and maraschino cherries. After three forty-hour weeks, I was paid what to me was the amazing sum of about $500. I was definitely moving up in the world.

When I was a college student at BYU, we had occasional apple-picking activities at a church-owned welfare farm. We worked for free, and yet somehow that was ever so much more fun than my cherry-picking days.

Then I got married and lived in two cities without an Orchard Presence. After a six-year hiatus from fruit orchards, my husband and I moved our little family to Redlands, California. The first orange grove was planted there in 1882, pretty close to the time the city was founded, and by 1930 there were 15,000 acres of orange groves in and around Redlands. Today only a few thousand acres of groves remain, but we still consider ourselves an "orange city." My husband and I, like many of our neighbors, have navel and mandarin oranges, lemons, and limes growing in our yard.

Redlands orange grove, May 2015
A half-hour up the mountain from Redlands is Oak Glen, a small farming community full of U-Pick orchards. We used to go there to pick fruit with our kids in the summer, and we especially loved the raspberry patch. I confess that my kids ate at least every other berry that they picked.
I give all this background as a possible explanation for why I was so taken by the Mount of Olives. I am drawn to orchards and groves. They are part of my past and my present. In my life they have been places of hard work, friendship, and peace.

I had always envisioned the Mount of Olives as a large, stand-alone hill covered with trees, something like the avocado groves of Southern California that are often planted on hills, or like the olive groves we have seen in Italy. However, the Mount of Olives is the middle of a three-peak range, with Mount Scopus on the north and the Mount of Corruption (which I had never heard of) to the south, and while groves may have once covered its slopes, the trees are more limited now. For the last 3,000 years, its other major use has been as a Jewish burial ground, and the cemetery today contains as many as 150,000 graves.
View of the Jewish Cemetery on the Mount of Olives
as seen from the southern wall of the Temple Mount
The Mount of Olives is known as a place of sorrow, but not just because of the cemetery or Christ's experience in the Garden. The earliest reference to it in the scriptures is when a weeping King David climbed the Mount as he fled from his son Absalom, who had betrayed him, usurped the throne, and taken over the kingdom. The betrayal of Judas was not the first act of treachery associated with this site.

We visited the Garden of Gethsemane on Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath, just before we went to church at the BYU Jerusalem Center. Rather than a place of sorrow, however, I found it to be much more like the orchards of my youth--a worksite that was beautiful and peaceful.
We began by listening to another insightful talk by Michael Wilcox. He read accounts from the Gospels recounting Christ's time spent in the Garden and then spoke of the comfort he has received in knowing that even Christ, a perfect being, faced a trial that he wished--even asked--could be removed, but it was not and could not be withdrawn. Michael also talked about wishing he could take away another's pain and suffering, but noted that has only been possible one time in the history of the world--here in Gethsemane.
The Garden of Gethsemane (derived from the Aramaic word for "oil press") is at the foot of the Mount of Olives. It was a place Jesus frequently visited to pray and meditate.
Studies show that these trees are over 900 years old, and that they may have sprung from much older roots. They are among the oldest broad-leaved trees in the world.
Gnarled and bent, they seem to testify of the burdens of the world that Christ bore as he prayed here.

It is clear that many nations have an interest in the Garden:

Young, cultivated plants grow under the protective ancient branches:

Like elderly people, some tree branches need just a little extra support. I like the crutch below made out of--what else?-- an olive tree branch:
While this is a garden in the sense that it produces food, it is also a garden in the same sense as the Gardens of Versailles or The Secret Garden in the book of that name by Frances Hodgson Burnett. It is a place to be savored. The sidewalks are designed for strolling, and it is full of light, open spaces, and viewpoints.

We were disappointed that our tour didn't allot more time for sightseeing other parts of the Mount of Olives. We would have liked to visit the Orson Hyde Memorial Garden, the Tomb of Absalom, and other sites. We were at least able to spent some time in the Church of All Nations/Basilica of the Agony:
The church gets its first name, Church of All Nations, from the fact that twelve countries from around the world contributed labor, material, and funds for its construction in the 1920s. There is a dome inside for each of the twelve countries.
The entrance is supported by beautiful Corinthian columns,
. . . which are topped by a stunning mosaic that shows Christ in the center acting as intermediary between God and man.
Left end of the mosaic
Center of mosaic showing Christ petitioning the Father
Right end. I was especially touched by the mother on the left, bending over her dead child.
Like the other Catholic churches in Israel, this one is managed by the Franciscans. As you can see, they are very strict. No walking around in your underwear, no incendiary devices, no picnicking, no armed robberies, no flowers (?), no German shepherds (although perhaps a St. Bernard would be acceptable), no bull horns, and certainly no bike races around the apse and/or nave:

A foyer to the church is created by metal  stylized olive trees that also look a little like gloomy, miasmic figures. 
The actual openings on the left and right have their own olive tree doors:

The interior is dimly lit with dark blue ceilings evoking a feeling of somber night:
There was a service going on while we were there, so my photos are taken from the back of the church. The apse at the front has a painting of Jesus praying on a rock in the Garden of Gethsemane. In front of the altar is what many believe to be that actual rock. (Hence the name "The Basilica of the Agony".)  It is barely visible just in front of the high altar at the bottom of the photo below:

As I thought about the artistic image of Christ in Gethsemane that I was most familiar with, I realized that it doesn't include a rock. Rather, Christ is supported by one of the old, gnarled trees:
Christ Prays in Gethsemane by Harry Anderson
I like this image. A rock seems such a hard, unyielding surface on which to pray. On the other hand, the Gospels of Matthew and Luke both say "He fell on his face and prayed," an entirely different image than either the rock or the tree.

The golden dome over the apse is incandescent in this otherwise subdued church:
"Subdued" doesn't mean plain, however, as these azure skies demonstrate:

The stained glass windows added a dusky, filtered quality to the light:
Paintings inside the church show Judas kissing Jesus on the cheek in the Garden of Gethsemane and the subsequent arrest of Jesus:

We enjoyed the blend of traditional architectural features with more modern imagery in this church. (Go to this site for a 360-degree virtual tour.)

Even the iron fence that separates the church from the street is beautiful:
As is this window in a nearby wall:

An unexpected find in a niche in a stone wall near the church was this small but stirring carving of Christ praying:

After his agony in the garden, Jesus was betrayed by Judas, arrested, and taken back across the Kidron Valley to Caiaphas's palace to be judged by the Sanhedrin.

Coming next: Caiaphas's palace and the Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu


  1. Ahh, the memories of working like a slave in the cherry orchards. It's hard to imagine a modern day child working as hard for so little moeny. The orchard of Gethesame was far more pleasant. The picture by Anderson is wonderful, and brings back memories, but I also like the colorful, dramatic pictures in the church.

  2. The Mount of Olives is a place I would love to go back to to investigate some of the other offerings, particularly the Russian Orthodox onion-domed church higher on the hill. I liked the various attempts in the Church of All Nations to incorporate the olive tree into the decorations - the grills on the doors, the ceiling, the various murals. It created a very unique church that let you know where you were, perhaps more-so than any other church I've visited.

  3. (Maybe it's no picking of the flowers?)
    Beautiful mosaic above the doorway, with expressive figures. I also loved the azure ceiling with the geometric starry sky. Lovely.