betanja logo

© franciscan cyberspot


  * Texts
  * Locality
  * Traditions
  * The Garden
  * The Rock


  * IV century
  * Medieval
  * New
  * Grotto


  * Hermitage
  * Romitaggio

6. The Medieval Church
Plan of the churches
Plan of the churches: in green the medieval church
After many centuries which are quite blank as to information about the church on the place of The Prayer, the first witnesses in the 12th century, notably the Anglo-Saxon Saewulf (1102-1103) and the Russian abbot Daniel (1106-1107) mention an "oratory" or "a little church" there. One anonymous document associates the name of the Saviour with it. We do not know when it was built. One might suggest the period of tolerance which the Christians of Palestine enjoyed after the death of Caliph el-Hakim (1021) and during the reign of his successors.

This oratory, which is mentioned by another anonymous Latin writer (1130-1150), must have given place to a "new church" noted in the records of the pilgrims John of Wurtzburg (1156) and Theodoric (1172). This served as a spiritual centre for the charitable confraternity founded to collect alms for the hospice of Our Lady of Josaphat which adjoined the abbey of the Tomb of the Virgin. Amongst other duties, the foundation rules enjoined on the monks of the abbey the obligation of singing a weekly Mass in the church of Saint Saviour for living members and benefactors and another Mass for those deceased.

After the capture of Jerusalem by Saladin (1187), the evidence becomes inconsistent once more. While the report of a so-called eye-witness, identified as an English abbot, makes mention of the church of Saint Saviour as amongst those destroyed, later witnesses again speak of a church on the spot still standing till 1323. Though viewed with suspicion by the specialists, these testimonies are seemingly confirmed by the excavations which, notably, have brought to light two different types of columns on the site.

In the 14th century, however, the church was definitely in ruins. James of Verona, a pilgrim in 1335, does not mention it any more. In 1347, Nicholas of Poggibonsi found it devastated. In 1461, the bishop of Saints, Louis de Rochechouart, saw only a plain wall. In 1644, a lone heap of stones from this remained.

This Crusader church was probably restored at some time or other by Palestinian Christians. Quite by chance, an apse and some mosaic fragments were brought to light in 1891. Scientific excavation of the remains was undertaken by the Franciscans in 1909. Part of the ruins is still to be seen today in the new basilica of the Agony.
medieval frescoes
The face of an angel -
remains of the medieval frescoes at Gethsemane

The Medieval church was built along an axis quite distinct from that of the Byzantine church, and was: of much more generous proportions. Its walls were 2.35 metres thick. The south wall was reinforced by a bed of masonry, while the lower courses of the facade formed a projection, dictated, no doubt, by the fall of the land. Building material was in the form~ of large blocks of dressed stone, together with masonry from the Byzantine church used over again.

The church was divided into three aisles by two rows of three cross-shaped pillars. After the building was restored, these were replaced by huge octagonal pillars.

As in the case of the Byzantine building, the Medieval church ended to the east with three circular apses. The outside wall of the central-apse was, however, polygonal.
Remains of the capitals from the Byzantine church

Formed from a natural platform 63 cm. high, the sanctuary extended out into the central aisle. It was surrounded by a low wall and two small sets of side steps. In the middle of the sanctuary, a rocky mass arose 10 cm. above floor-level, 75 cm. long by 60 cm. wide. A similar rocky protrusion was noticed in the north apse. With regard to the southern apse, it was distinctive by reason of its roughly dressed stone which extended as far the wall, as likewise by a cavity 1.20 m. long by 1.05 wide.

These details immediately bring to mind the reports of pilgrims who took pains to mention stones which were to be seen within the Medieval church. Thus, John of Wurtzburg speaks of "three undressed stones, like small outcrops of rock, on which Jesus is said to have knelt and prayed three times." These were the object of devotion on the part of the faithful. Some experts view the cavity in the southern apse as the site of a third stone which was, perhaps, removed by pilgrims. These people certainly chipped or hammered off pieces of the other two rocks, to take them away as souvenirs.


The floor brought to light by the excavations is made up of different types of stone, pieces of marble and large mosaic cubes. It is likely that the Crusader church was paved with flag-stones, partially replaced by rather crude mosaic. itself, as formerly. The antiphons are full of allusions to the betrayal by Judas and the Gospel text makes mention of Jesus' confrontation with the Sanhedrin, and also Peter's denial (Mt 26:57-75).

© franciscan cyberspot - text written by Albert Storme

  Gethsemane MainOther Santuaries  


Please fill in our Guest book form - Thank you for supporting us!
Created / Updated Sunday, 10 October, 2004 at 11:55:09 pm by J. Abela, E. Alliata, E. Bermejo
Web site uses Javascript and CSS stylesheets - Space by courtesy of Christus Rex

© The Franciscans of the Holy Land

cyber logo footer