What is that building?

Frequently over the years I have had tour members ask me, “What is that building?” as they pointed to the building with golden onion tops. The simple answer is that this is the Russian Garden of Gethsemane. More specifically, the building is known as the Church of St. Mary Magdalene.

The Church of All Nations (left) and the Church of St. Mary Magdalene on the Mount of Olives. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Church of All Nations (left) and the Church of St. Mary Magdalene on the Mount of Olives. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Many will recognize the Church of All Nations and its’ Garden of Gethsemane. Murphy-O’Connor says,

No one can be sure of the exact spot at which he prayed, but this limited area was certainly close to the natural route leading from the Temple to the summit of the Mount of Olives and the ridge leading to Bethany. (The Holy Land, 5th ed., p. 147).

The New Testament account explains that the disciples of Jesus went with him to the Mount of Olives (Matthew 26:30), to a placed called Gethsemane.

Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here, while I go over there and pray.” (Matthew 26:36 ESV)

The Church of St. Mary Magdalene has received quite a bit of attention in the Israeli newspapers because Prince Charles, Prince of Wales, went there after attending the funeral of former Israeli President Shimon Peres. The paternal grandmother of Prince Charles, Princess Alice of Battenberg, died in 1969 but was transferred to the Mount of Olives according to her request in 1988. The Times of Israel explains,

Alice of Battenberg was recognized by Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial as a “Righteous Among the Nations” and by the British government as a “Hero of the Holocaust.”

Prince Phillip is said to have visited the Church in 1994.

The web site of the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission in Jerusalem says,

Princess Andrew of Greece (Princess Alice of Battenberg), mother of the Duke of Edinburgh visited the church and stayed in the monastery in the 1930s. Her wish was to be buried near her Aunt ‘Ella’, the Grand-Duchess Elizabeth whose devotion to the church and to nursing and charitable service she strove to emulate. Princess Andrew died at Buckingham Palace in 1969. Her wish to be buried at the Convent of Saint Mary Magdalene in Gethsemane was finally realized in 1988 when her remains were transferred to her final resting place in a crypt below the church.

The church stands in the Garden of Gethsemane, the place where Jesus spent His last night on earth. Also found on the convent grounds are the remnants of a pre-Roman road, the biblical entry to Jerusalem. Not far from this road is a large stone on to which the Mother of God dropped her cincture to Apostle Thomas on the third day following her Dormition.

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