The Mount of Olives is a sacred place for both Jews and Christians. “And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives” (Matt. 26:30).*
Many events took place here during the Passion Week. The Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus spent his last hours praying before he was arrested, lies at the foot the mountain: “And they went to a place which was called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, "Sit here, while I pray" (Mk. 14:32). To get there, Jesus crossed the Kidron Valley: “… he went forth with his disciples across the Kidron valley, where there was a garden, which he and his disciples entered” (Jn. 18:1).
There are several splendid churches in this sacred place. The Paternoster Church, named after the prayer that Jesus taught his disciples: “Pray then like this: Our Father who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name…” (Matt. 6:9-13), the Church of Dominus Flevit (Our Lord weeping): “And when he drew near and saw the city he wept over it…” (Lk. 19:41), and the Church of Agony, also called the Church of All Nations, home to some magnificent mosaics depicting the Agony of Jesus. According to tradition, the Rock of Agony lies inside the church.
The Grotto of Agony is not far from The Tomb of the Virgin Mary and The Church of St. Mary Magdalena. And near the top of the Mount of Olives is the Chapel of the Ascension: “And when he had said this, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight” (Acts 1:9).
Mount Zion is the site of some very important events in the Gospel, including the Last Supper, the Institution of the Eucharist and the Pentecost. It was in the Upper Room in this complex, or the Coenaculum, where “… he took bread, and when he had given thanks he broke it and gave it to them, saying, "This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me." And likewise the cup after supper, saying, "This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (Lk. 22:19-20).
The Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu is built on the house of the high priest Caiaphas: “Then those who had seized Jesus led him to Caiaphas the high priest, where the scribes and the elders had gathered” (Matt 26:57), and commemorates St. Peter’s denial of Jesus after his arrest: “But he denied it, saying, "Woman, I do not know him."” (Lk. 22:57). Mount Zion is also the site of the Dormition Abbey, where Saint Mary fell into "eternal sleep," and David's Tomb.
The Western Wall and the Western Wall Tunnel, the Dome of the Rock, and the Al-Aqsa Mosque are among the distinguishing sites of the Holy City of Jerusalem.
The Pool of Bethesda is where Jesus healed an infirm on the Sabbath: “Jesus said to him, "Rise, take up your pallet, and walk.” And at once the man was healed, and he took up his pallet and walked. Now that day was the sabbath” (Jn. 5: 8-9).
Perhaps the high point of every pilgrimage is honoring the Passion of Christ and walking the Via Dolorosa, the way of Sorrows, which is the route Jesus walked on his way to the Calvary: “So they took Jesus, and he went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called the place of a skull, which is called in Hebrew Golgotha. There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, and Jesus between them.” (Jn. 19:17-18). The last five stations of the 14 stations along the Via Dolorosa are in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, site of Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection.
The Monastery of the Cross is an impressive, fortress-like monastery built – according to tradition – where the tree stood that supplied the wood for the cross on which Jesus was crucified: “…They put him to death by hanging him on a tree” (Acts 10:39).
Yad Vashem, The Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority, is Israel’s Memorial to the Victims of the Nazi Holocaust. Paying respect to the six million victims of the Holocaust is a way of expressing the need to preserve the memories and act upon the values that will prevent the reoccurrence of such bestial events. Yad Vashem is also a constant reminder of how easily humankind can sink into the abyssal darkness of incomprehensible cruelty.
Yad Vashem invites visitors to study this chapter of history and come closer to the six million, denied the basic rights of life just because they were Jews. Their dreams and hopes were not to be, but the visitor adds his or her name to the collective commitment of never forgetting and never allowing it to happen again.
Ein Karem, southwest of Jerusalem, is famous for the Church of the Visitation, commemorating St. Mary's visit to St. Elizabeth, and the Church of St. John the Baptist, commemorating St. John's birth: “In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a city of Judah, and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth” (Lk. 1:39-40).* An amazing archeological find was discovered close to Ein Karem: the Cave of John the Baptist in Kibbutz Tzuba.
* All quotations are from the RSV-CE.
Information on the Holy Sites in Israel on our website: www.goisrael.com