Archaeologists in Israel unearth ritual bath from Jesus’ time, at Gethsemane

(Photo: Yoli Schwartz/Israel Antiquities Authority)Excavations at the Byzantine Church at Gethsemane where a bath dating back to the time of Jesus was found.

A 2,000-year-old ritual bath dating to the time of Jesus has been discovered by Israeli archaeologists at Gethsemane, where Jesus prayed just before his crucifixion.

The archaeological excavations by the Israel Antiquities Authority ahead of a pending construction unearthed the bath near the modern church at Gethsemane, together with the remains of a church from the Byzantine period around 1,500 years ago, The Jerusalem Post reported.

“The discovery of the ritual bath may therefore hint at the origin of the place’s ancient name, Gethsemane (Gat Shemanim, ‘oil press’), a place where ritually pure oil was produced near the city.”

The evidence suggests the ancient church was founded at the end of the Byzantine period in the sixth century and continued to be used during the Umayyad period in the eighth century.

The finds were uncovered with the assistance of scholars from the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum.

They were presented on Dec. 21 with the participation of the Custos of the Holy Land, Fr. Francesco Patton.

The Church of Gethsemane is also known as the Church of the Agony or Church of All Nations and is at the foot of the famous Mount of Olives in Jerusalem.

It is one of Christianity’s most important churches and is visited by thousands of pilgrims each year.


The modern church was built on the spot where Christian tradition holds that Jesus was betrayed on the night before his crucifixion.

Christian belief says that Jesus used to pray on the Mount of Olives according to the Gospel of Like (22:39) and prayed here on the night before the crucifixion (Mattew. 26:36).

Amit Re ’em, Jerusalem District Archaeologist for the Israel Antiquities Authority, said the discovery of the ritual bath “probably confirms the place’s ancient name, Gethsemane.”

“Most ritual baths from the Second Temple period have been found in private homes and public buildings, but some have been discovered near agricultural installations and tombs, in which case the ritual bath is located in the open,” he said.

Workers building a new visitor center and foot tunnel linking the modern church to the Kidron Valley found the remains.

“The discovery of the ritual bath may therefore hint at the origin of the place’s ancient name, Gethsemane (Gat Shemanim, ‘oil press’), a place where ritually pure oil was produced near the city.”

The finds from the excavations are to be put on display at the visitor center when it opens.

“The discovery of this bath, unaccompanied by buildings, probably attests to the existence of an agricultural industry here 2,000 years ago – possibly producing oil or wine,” said Re ’em.


“The Jewish laws of purification obliged workers involved in oil and wine production to purify themselves.”

Custos of the Holy Land, a senior friar, Fr. Francesco Patton, said it was an “important” discovery.

“Gethsemane is one of the most important sanctuaries in the Holy Land, because in this place the tradition remembers the confident prayer of Jesus and his betrayal and because every year millions of pilgrims visit and pray in this place,” he said.

“Even the latest excavations conducted on this site have confirmed the antiquity of the Christian memory and tradition linked to the place, and this is very important for us and for the spiritual meaning connected with the archeological findings.

“I greet with great pleasure this fruitful cooperation between the Custody of the Holy Land, the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum, and the Israel Antiquities Authority, and I hope that we will be able to join our scientific competences for further future collaborations.”

(Photo: Yoli Schwartz/ Israel Antiquities Authority)Fr. Francesco Patton, Custos of the Holy Land, next to the ancient ritual bath.
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