What does “Gethsemane” mean?


Q: What does “Gethsemane” (as in the Mount of Olives-Garden of Gethsemani/Gethsemane)?

A: “Gethsemane” means “olive oil press”.

More from the Catholic Encyclopedia

A place so memorable, to which all the Evangelists direct attention, was not lost sight of by the early Christians. In his “Onomasticon,” Eusebius of Caesarea says that Gethsemani is situated “at the foot of the Mount of Olives”, and he adds that “the faithful were accustomed to go there to pray“.

In 333 the Pilgrim of Bordeaux visited the place, arriving by the road which climbs to the summit of the mountain, i.e. beyond the bridge across the valley of Josaphat. In the time of the Jews, the bridge which spanned the torrent of Cedron occupied nearly the same place as one which is seen there today, as is testified by the ancient staircase cut in the rock, which on one side came down from the town and on the other wound to the top of the mountain. Petronius, Bishop of Bologna (c. 420), and Sophronius, Patriarch of Jerusalem, speak of this immense staircase and two other pilgrims counted the steps. Traces of it are still to be seen on the side towards the city, and numerous steps, very large and well-preserved, have been discovered above the present Garden of Gathsemani.

The Pilgrim of Bordeaux notes “to the left, among the vines, the stone where Judas Iscariot betrayed Christ”.

In translating the “Onomasticon” of Eusebius, St. Jerome adds to the article Gethsemani the statement that “a church is now built there” (Onomasticon, ed. Klostermann, p. 75). St. Sylvia of Aquitania (385-388) relates that on Holy Thursday the procession coming down from the Mount of Olives made a station at “the beautiful church” built on the spot where Jesus underwent the Agony. “From there”, she adds, “they descend to Gethsemani where Christ was taken prisoner” (S. Silviae Aquit. Peregr., ed. Gamurrini, 1888, pp. 62-63).

This church, remarkable for its beautiful columns (Theophanes, Chronogr. ad an. 682), was destroyed by the Persians in 614; rebuilt by the Crusaders, and finally razed, probably in 1219. Arculf (c. 670), St. Willibald (723), Daniel the Russian (1106), and John of Wurzburg (1165) mention the Church of the Agony. The foundations have recently been discovered at the place indicated by them, i.e. at a very short distance from the south-east corner of the present Garden of Gethsemani.

A fragmentary account of a pilgrimage in the fourth century, preserved by Peter the Deacon (1037), mentions “a grotto at the place where the Jews took the Savior captive”.

According to the tradition it was in this grotto that Christ was wont to take refuge with his disciples to pass the night. It was also memorable for a supper and a washing of the feet which, according to the same tradition, took place there.

Eutychius, Patriarch of Constantinople (d. 583), says in one of his sermons that the Church commemorates three suppers. “The first repast”, he says, “together with the purification, took place at Gethsemani on the Sabbath day, the first day, i.e. when Sunday was already begun. That is why we then celebrate the vigil” (P.G., LXXXVI, 2392). The second supper was that of Bethany, and the third was that was that of Holy Thursday at which was instituted the Holy Eucharist.

Photo credit –  Dell Tacket

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