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Mount of Olives

Home > Jerusalem > Churches | Spirituality | Walks
by Cressida Ryan (subscribe)
Classicist and traveller
Published July 28th 2018
The highest hill in Jerusalem, the Mount of Olives is historically important and offers some of the most breathtaking views of the old city. Just outside the old city, a pilgrim's way takes you on one of the most profound walks in Jerusalem. You trace the steps Jesus took in life, and in his resurrection, to the point of his ascension into heaven (see Acts 1:9-12).

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Looking down on Jerusalem

At the summit, you first encounter what looks like normal suburban life, with houses and shops. Follow the signs, however, and there are two key sites. The Russian Orthodox church is the more overtly impressive, but less frequently open one.

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The Russian Orthodox Church of the Ascension

Further along is the small shrine of the Ascension. A place of worship for nearly two thousand years, its courtyard gives you an architectural history in objects. It has been a shrine, a monastery and even a mosque in its time, its Crusader shell remodelled in Islamic style.

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The chapel of the Ascension

Open from 8am, it's cheap to enter (5 NIS), and a small gift trolley will sell bits and pieces. Cupboards inside house incense stores, ready for worship. Crowds flow in and out, but you can find windows of peace for private contemplation, over the stone footstep supposedly marking the very place of Jesus' ascension into heaven.

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The spot supposedly marking the Ascension

One of the most unexpected but impressive sites are the Jewish tombs. Marble slab beside marble slab is arrayed in seemingly endless formation, turning the hillside white, people jostling even in death for a prominent place with quicker access to heaven.

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The Jewish cemetary

The Dominus Flevit commemorates the place where the gospels tell us Jesus stopped and wept over Jerusalem. The church itself is beautiful. One particularly poignant aspect is how the cross on the altar lines up, through the window, with the Dome of the Rock. This is a religious landscape, marked architecturally by the intersection of political and spiritual concerns.

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The Dominus Flevit

Inside the compound of the Pater Noster, a church in honour of the Lord's Prayer, the international reach of Christianity is physically tangible, with the prayer inscribed around the garden in 171 languages. The church itself is Roman Catholic, under the guardianship of the Carmelites. First mentioned by Bishop Eusebius of Caesarea in AD 335, and later renamed Eleona, the basilica dates back to Emperor Constantine's mother, Helena.

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The Lord's Prayer multiplied

The Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus prayed before his death, and his disciples fell asleep, is still a garden, with a church incorporated. A kind of one-way system shunts you round, but even that kind of control can't detract from the odd combination of peace and pain this place engenders. The church is called the Church of all Nations, attesting to the ecumenical importance of the site.

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The garden of Gethsemane

Other churches commemorate Mary Magdalene, for example, or the tomb of the Virgin Mary. This is a route which pays homage to the whole Christian story, as well as Christ himself.

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Church of Mary's tomb

It's a steep walk, if only a few kilometres long. The road is smooth, but pavements are not always there. You can get a bus up, or follow a tour guide, but there is something to be said for an individual meander, particularly earlier in the day before the heat and crowds alike build up.

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Inside the church at Gethsemane

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When: varies by church, bur from around 8am
Where: Mount of Olives
Cost: varies by church, the walk is free
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