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Olives was to me the most interesting; and while climbing its sides, or gazing from its summit, I must confess that I felt a holy awe I did not experience elsewhere; and that more reverence and devotional enthusiasm possessed my mind than while hurried along by boisterous monks and fanatic devotees, through places which, whatever may be their sanctity, are desecrated by tawdry superstitious ornaments; as well as by the unholy scenes that are continually taking place around them.
But we hasten to a spot that few can visit without emotionGethsemane*-situated nearly opposite St. Stephen's gate, and looking down upon the valley of Jehoshaphat. It is a square plot of ground, forty-seven paces on each side, sown with corn and enclosed by a low, rude wall. Eight aged olive trees still exist within the enclosure, and are pointed out as those beneath whose shade the Man of Sorrows experienced the bitter foretaste of that death he was about to suffer—the "pangs—the throesthe agonizing struggle, when soul and body part ;” and hardened indeed must be the heart that can coldly contemplate this sacred spot where the Lord of life and glory drank that bitter cup of superhuman suffering, for sinful man's redemption, and not partake of some such kindred feelings.
Perhaps the readers of these pages may ask me what authority there is for supposing this to be the garden mentioned by the evangelists, and how the olives within the enclosure could possibly have survived through nineteen centuries, and those learned in history or in works of travel may say, did not Titus cut down all the timber around the city; and did not the tenth legion of his army encamp on this very hill? True, gentle readers; but I answer—that the locality assigned to this garden renders its identity very probable; especially when we consider the circumstances that are detailed in the Gospels of the route taken by our Lord and his disciples when they went forth from the city after having observed the passover, and instituted the supper. On that memorable night they crossed the brook Kedron, in all probability opposite St. Stephen's, or the Sheep-gate, and from
* From the ng gath, a press, and yw shemen, oil, the garden of the oil press; probably the place where the produce of the Mount of Olives was prepared.
thence proceeded by the nearest route to the garden on the side of the mount; which corresponds exactly with the present locality of Gethsemane. It is also true that the Romans cut down the wood about Jerusalem ; but the timber of an olive tree would be of little value indeed, in constructing engines, towers, and battering-rams, to be used against cyclopean walls such as I have described ; and these trees in particular must then have been so slender that the besiegers would have considered them unfit for any such purpose. They are undoubtedly the largest, and I may add with safety, the most ancient olive trees in the world. The largest is twenty-four feet in girth above its roots, though its topmost branch is not thirty feet from the ground. The trunks of most of them are hollow in the centre, and built up with stones, like to their aged brother of Oratava.
There is nothing unnatural in assigning an age of nineteen centuries to these patriarchs of the vegetable kingdom, whose growth is perhaps the slowest of any in existence. They have not borne fruit for some years past; but, though their trunks are greatly decayed, yet, from the hardness of the wood, and each part being so very retentive of life, there is still a considerable head to each, whose light-coloured, silky leaves hang like so many silver locks over their time-worn and aged stems, that now, in the evening of life, are fast tottering to decay. But, having witnessed the scenes of suffering, and the long dark night of gloom and fearful retribution that has sunk the pride and prostrated the glory of Jerusalem, they seem yet to linger for the morning twilight of that bright era that will shortly dawn upon the land of Judah. The recollections of the hours I have passed beneath their shade, shall last while memory and reason retain their seat, and the leaves plucked from their branches be treasured with as much (though with different feelings of) devotion, as are the beads and rosaries of my Roman Catholic brethren. Yes; and the cross formed of their wood, which the kind-hearted Father Benjamin presented to me on the morning of our departure, shall ever hold a conspicuous place in my cabinet.
In the vicinity of this garden were pointed out to us the usual traditionary sites, attached to which there is not a single shadow of probability. Some that we examined have been lately erected, and have recent Latin inscriptions upon them. But I shall not enumerate them, nor would I have mentioned them
here except for the following reason. They are opposition shops: that is, the Latins having of late years, and especially since Napoleon's invasion of Palestine, lost their influence in the country, as well as at the Porte, the chief holy places are now rented by the Greeks or the Armenians, but particularly the former. To make up for this deficiency the Latin fathers immediately pretend to have discovered some spot in the neighbourhood of each of these places, still more holy than the former ; and at once establish its sanctity by reputed miracles, by masses and processions.
Our track now led toward the summit of the mount, by a narrow, winding road. The sides of the hill are partly cultivated; the corn was just becoming green ; and the fields and enclosures were studded with numerous low bushy olive trees; the stones of whose fruit are manufactured into beads, and considered very sacred. We passed several cisterns, some of which bear evident marks of antiquity. The ascent is toilsome, and as we rested occasionally to take breath, the prospect gradually became more extended, and increased in beauty; for, step by step as we ascended, the city opened to our view, and like the unfolding of an immense scroll, or the turning of a panorama, Jerusalem and the splendid Mosque of Omar became developed, till we gained the summit, when it was so completely under our eyes that we could readily discover every place of note within and around its walls ; nay, trace every street and lane that winds among its white, dome-roofed houses. In fact, so very much does the mount overhang the city, that the Lord may literally be said to have “wept over it.”
The summit is crowned by an Armenian convent and a mosque; and in a space encircled by a high wall, we were conducted to the spot pointed out as that from which the Ascension is said to have taken place. Within this area there is a small octagonal building of very tasteful architecture, and in its outer decoration not unlike an ancient Greek temple. In the centre of this oratory a portion of the naked rock, encircled by a marble casing, is said to be the last spot of earth touched by the Saviour's feet. On it there is a mark something like the impression of a foot, which is believed by all devout pilgrims to be the print left in it miraculously by the Saviour; but it is now so much kissed away, and worn down by the multitude of casts in wax and plaster that
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are daily taken from it, that it requires considerable faith in order to recognise any resemblance to that which it is stated to be. The Christian pilgrims who went up with us, knelt around and devoutly kissed and rubbed their faces on this spot, which is considered a relic of great value, even by the Mooslims. An Armenian priest had the care of the place ; but none of the Christian sects are allowed to celebrate religious services within it. The Latins informed us that they had intended purchasing a firman from the Basha, empowering them to perform mass within it, but were deterred from doing so by the fear of being out-bid by their richer neighbours, the Greeks, the next year. Some of the best specimens of carving to be found in or about Jerusalem may be seen in the capitals of the pillars that surround this oratory
A little to the south of the place of Ascension, I visited a subterranean chamber in the form of a cone, having a hole at the top. It is lined by an extremely fine and solid cement, similar to that coating the cisterns lower down upon the side of the hill, and also those that I noticed outside the present wall near Jeremiah's grotto; to which latter cisterns it bears a most remarkable resemblance in every particular. Clarke was of opinion that this cave was one of the “high places” erected to the worship of Ashtoreth by Solomon, and that it answered the description of “the high places that were before Jerusalem which were on the right hand of the Mount of Corruption which Solomon the king had builded for Ashtoreth, the abomination of the Zidonians, and for Chemosh, the abomination of the Moabites, and for Milcom, the abomination of the children of Ammon.” (2 Kings xxi. 13.) This Mount of Corruption he supposes to be the Mount of Olives, but offers no proof to substantiate his opinion. I see nothing, however, as yet, to invalidate the opinion as to the Hill of Evil Council, or Mount of Offence, which is to the south of the city, being the eminence that Solomon crowned with the high places of pagan worship; and the cave itself, which Clarke considered to have been one of the high places, is identically the same as those shown, and believed to be cisterns, in other localities; and if there were persons dwelling on the summit of this hill, such a contrivance was not only probable but indispensable. The Mount of Olives is mentioned in Scripture long before these “high places” could have been set up, and it is as likely to have been
mentioned by that name as by the title of the Mount of Corruption—an appellation given to the site of these places from the abominations practised on them, and their leading the Israelites into the sin of idolatry. Had, however, the identity of the place which is more generally acknowledged as the Mount of Offence, remained unquestioned, it would consequently have interfered with Clarke's topography; and could not therefore be Mount Sion, as he has endeavoured to prove.
Not only is the prospect from this point grand and imposing, but the associations it recalls to the mind, and the impressions it leaves, are well calculated to inspire fervour and excitement. Jerusalem lay beneath us, stretched like a carpet at our feet, part of its ancient walls and the golden gate of its temple being distinctly visible.* The church that covers Calvary and the Holy Sepulchre, formed a prominent object in the picture; and the magnificent mosque of Omar standing on the site of the temple, appeared so close beneath us, as though we could have leaped into its court. This building is of an octagonal figure, and is raised upon a large platform of masonry; and, surmounted by its stately and enormous dome, its walls coated with light blue tiles, its golden crescent glancing in the sunbeam, and standing within a large open space of green-sward, studded with olives, cedars, and cypresses, added considerably to the apparent magnitude of the edifice, and heightened the effect of the whole ; while, the lines of Mooslim pilgrims traversing its courts and avenues gave life and animation to the scene. Sion raised its acropolis above the city, and the tombs and monuments of the mighty dead ' that slumber in the valley of Jehoshaphat, told of the greatness of
the past. The broad plain of Rephaim led to the heights of Bethlehem, on the extreme left, and the conical hill, called the “Mount of the French,” formed prominent objects in the landscape ; while to the right appeared the stony country that leads towards Damascus. Behind us to the south-east, the dull waters
• Catherwood's beautiful panorama of Jerusalem was lately exhibited in this city, and many persons criticised it on account of the faded look the different places appeared to have. This appearance I have often remarked in the original; and in this consisted the great truth and accuracy of the representation.