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8. The new Basilica of the Agony
Detail from the mosaic
Detail from the mosaic in the façade of the new basilica of th Agony
The Custody of the Holy Land decided to build a new church on what was believed to be the location of the "elegant" church of the 4th century. The foundation stone was laid on October, 1919. The planning was entrusted to the architect, Antonio Barluzzi.

As we have said, work on the foundations had already begun when, in 1920, a column was found two metres beneath the medieval floor, together with fragments of a magnificent mosaic. The architect immediately removed the new foundations and undertook excavations. After the Byzantine church was brought to light, it was clear that the plans for the new church would have to be altered. Work subsequently continued from April 19, 1922 to June, 1924 when the new basilica was consecrated.
View of the mosaiced ceiling
View of the mosaiced ceiling resting on monolith columns
Many countries helped defray the building costs. Their respective coats-of-arms are reproduced in the little domes of the ceiling and the mosaics of the apses. In the left side, beginning with the apse, Argentina, Brasil, Chile and Mexico are represented. In the middle, Italy, France, Spain and England. To the right: Belgium, Canada, Germany, the United States of America. The mosaics in the apses were donated by Ireland, Hungary and Poland. The crown around the Rock itself was the gift of Australia. Because of this vast international collaboration in the work of building the basilica, it is known as the "Church of all Nations."
Inside the new basicilaInside the new basicilaInside the new basicila
Inside the new basicila with its sober lighting and domed ceiling

The plan of the building is a repetition of that of the Byzantine basilica-form of church, but on a larger scale. However, in view of the almost total destruction of the Byzantine structure, the builders were free to choose their own architectural details, especially with respect to the height of the new edifice.

By reason of its universal character, the classical Roman architecture of Christ's own time seemed the most suitable. However, according to Barluzzi's plan, the building was designed to recall specifically the scene of the Agony. It was also to stand as a monument to the genuiness of the locality. So, to convey a sense of overwhelming depression, the architect reduced the elevation of the walls by a ceiling built in the form of twelve low domes. To bring to mind the night-time of the Agony, and to evoke reverence for it, he left the interior in semi-darkness by using violet-colored glass everywhere. The sombre blue of a star-studded night sky is reproduced in the ceiling, the stars being surrounded by olive branches reminiscent of Gethsemane itself.
The presbytery areaThe presbytery area today
The presbytery area: left - before the liturgical reform; right - as it is today
The rocky mass against the primitive apse was built has been kept in areas to the north east, the east and the south-east, just as the original engineers had dressed it, and as it emerged during the excavations. It serves as a kind of framework for the rock which had some purpose in the primitive church which we cannot now determine. However, it still recalls the scene of Christ's Agony and prayer.

Two kinds of stone have been used in the construction of the church: inside, a gray-reddish type from the quarries at Lifta, north-west of Jerusalem; outside, the rose stone of Bethlehem.

The building is divided into three aisles of equal length by six slim columns of rose stone only. It thus gives the impression of one sole large hall.
wall decorationswall decorationswall decorations
Details from the wall decorations in the new basilica

Besides the mosaics in the ceiling, the basilica is adorned with three large mosaics in the apses. They represent, left or right, the betrayal kiss of Judas, the Agony scene and Jesus' solemn saying, Ego surn: "I am Jesus of Nazareth" (Jn 18:5).

The side murals are the work of Mario Barberis. The central mosaic was designed by Pietro D'Achiardi who aimed to show the Saviour in agony, spent like a victim on an altar, the face full of sadness, but not of despair. Above, the hand of God is shown extending the crown of ultimate victory and, in the middle, between heaven and earth, an angel descends, bringing help from on high.
Another view of the basilica
Another view of the basilica
THE CROWN AROUND THE "ROCK OF THE AGONY." The iron wreath around called the ''Rock of the Agony" is in the form of a crown of thorns with some olive branches, the latter redolent of the Garden. Birds are shown in front of a chalice. They symbolize souls who wish to share the chalice of Christ's Passion. Two silver doves are depicted as caught in agony in the snares of the brambles. They extend their necks like meek, sacrificial victims.
Detail of the Crown of thorns
Detail of the Crown of thorns

The church opens onto the porch through one single door. On the latter, bronze decoration shows the tree of life springing from a cross and turning downwards in four volutes, each of which frames a symbol of one of the four evangelists. Panels beneath each symbol contain the respective Gospel texts telling of the Agony.
Details from the facade
Details from the facade
Details from the facade
Details from the façade
The porch opens out onto the Kidron valley through three curved archways. The pillars of the facade are flanked by Corinthians columns and each cornice of the entablature bears the statue of an evangelist.

The triangular area over the great portal (tympanum) is filled by a wonderful mosaic. On the summit of the tympanum two stags stand on each side of a cross. The designer of the mosaic, Professor Giulio Bargellini, has depicted Christ as the mediator between God and man on whose behalf he gives his very heart which an angel is shown receiving into his hands. To Christ's left, there is a throng of lowly, unfortunate folk who, through their tears, look to him with confidence. For example, a mother is shown offering her child hopefully to Christ. To his right, the powerful and wise acknowledge the shortcomings of all their might and learning. Jesus makes the prayers of all his own, in accord with the verse from the Epistle to Hebrews (5 :7) which is reproduced beneath the whole mosaic: "(Jesus) offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, and he was heard for his godly fear."
Details from the facade
Details from the mosaic of the façade

© franciscan cyberspot - text written by Albert Storme

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Created / Updated Sunday, 10 October, 2004 at 11:55:17 pm by J. Abela, E. Alliata, E. Bermejo
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