One of the most glorious places on Earth, the Mount of Olives is a special site in a land known for landmarks and history. It is a direct connection to the life of Jesus and his ascension into Heaven. As a Christian, it is one of the most impactful and spirituality engrossing locations on the planet.
Also known as Mount Olivet, the Mount of Olives does not refer to one specific location, but a larger mountain range with three separate peaks. The ridge runs approximately 3.5 kilometers across, which makes sense for the number of times it is referenced in the bible as a key route from Jerusalem to Bethany. According to the Bible, Jesus wept for Jerusalem from one of these peaks and indeed even today the mountain offers a suburb view over the ancient city. The mount runs down into the Kidron Valley where the Dome of the Rock is located, overlooking a massive area of land.
Dotted across the ridge are a variety of incredible holy sites and places of worship. Over half a dozen churches, many of which celebrate specific periods of Jesus’ life, can be found spread across the Mount, but that is only a start.
The Mount of Olives is also home to the Garden of Gethsemane, a site Jesus and his disciples visited many times and where Jesus was betrayed by Judas. This is where Jesus prayed to his Father in distress before being taken away for crucifixion. It cannot be overstated how important this site is to the Christian faith and how remarkable it is that we can still stand here millennia later and feel a connection to Christ on Earth.
While there, you can also see The Church of All Nations. This Catholic church enshrines a section of bedrock where Jesus is said to have prayed before his arrest and contains olive trees that date back to the time of Jesus. It’s an incredible piece of history still with us today.
Also along the foothills of the Mount is the Tomb of Zechariah. This austere tomb is carved out of solid rock. This monument (there is no actual burial chamber to speak of) commemorates the priest Zechariah referenced in Chronicles in the Old Testament –
And the Spirit of God came upon Zechariah the son of Jehoiada the priest, which stood above the people, and said unto them, Thus saith God, Why transgress ye the commandments of the Lord, that ye cannot prosper? because ye have forsaken the Lord, he hath also forsaken you. And they conspired against him, and stoned him with stones at the commandment of the king in the court of the house of the Lord – Chronicles 24:20-21
And of course, there is the Church of Mary Magdalene, a Russian orthodox church of astounding beauty. The majesty of its golden domes is a sight to behold. It is also an active church, with more than 30 nuns living and practicing in it today.
This is all without even mentioning the Mount’s importance as a sacred burial place. The Mount has functioned as a Jewish cemetery for more than 3000 years. Thousands of graves dot different areas of the Mount, including many historical Jewish kings, priests, and prophets. While modern conflicts have disturbed the graves before, there are still new burials on the Mount today. To avoid the mistakes and losses of the past, Israel has embarked in a process of digital preservation, documenting and recording the graves spread throughout the mountain so that every name and site will be remembered.
This incredible area of history is open and free to all. There are no passes needed, no fees to pay, though a guided tour may be a good idea if you’re looking to get the most out of your time on the Mountain. If you’re already in Jerusalem it is so close you would be doing yourself a disservice not to go and see and experience this special place yourself!