The plan was to connect the visitor’s center to the garden with a long tunnel – thus protecting the ancient valley between.
But when fate suddenly revealed a new cave system, he never would have imagined the amazing discoveries waiting within. It was like history had reached out and begged them to look further.
For Father Francesco Patton, it never failed to make him chuckle – people’s reactions when he told them he wasn’t just a monk, but an archaeologist as well.
In other countries, the combination might sound strange. However, in Israel, it was quite common for the Franciscan order. But he wasn’t just any old man in dusty robes.
Father Patton was one the head monks in the area.
This meant any major finds or discoveries were his to first look into and assign dig teams to. So, when he got phone call that one of their tunnels had collapsed and revealed a new, massive cave, he felt his heart pound with excitement.
Working in the heart of the Holy Land, it was like being a young child racing downstairs during Christmas morning every single day.
But he had a feeling that this new discovery was going to be world changing. Of all the things that could have set events in motion … it started with a bathtub.
Many people had heard of the Last Supper and Jesus’ betrayal.
But past that, not as many knew about the location where he had taken his last walk and contemplated the torture to come. All they knew was it was called Gethsemane and it was, long ago, a lush garden with olive trees.
Father Patton work in the place that every division of the Catholic church had agreed was Gethsemane – across from the Kidron Valley from Jerusalem.
But in all their years of digging, they couldn’t find any physical evidence that corresponded with the Jesus’ timeline. So, what they uncovered next was unbelievable.
They stumbled upon a Byzantine church which had been in use between the sixth and eighth centuries.
Also, they found a monastery that dated back to the Crusader times. Coupled with a Greek engraving, it was proof there were Christian pilgrims coming to that area despite Muslim rule. Nestle deep within the protective stone, was the crumbling bathtub.
To be specific, it was a mikveh – a ritual bath that Jewish people used to purify themselves.
Father Patton felt another rush of excitement when they confirmed it dated back the Second Temple Era – the time that Jesus was said to walk the Earth. There was, however, one large snag that nagged at the old monk.
While common place, these sorts of baths were usually only found under ancient homes of the rich or near cemeteries.
So, it was surprising to find a mikveh in the middle of what used to be an olive field. The next step only took a bit of research and brought them one step closer to some amazing insights.
There were instances where these baths were used near agricultural spots. Why was this vital?
Well, Gethsemane’s name is derived from the local words for an olive press, “gat semãnê” in Aramaic and “gat shemanim” in Hebrew. How do all these puzzle pieces fit together? It brings things full circle back to the story of the Last Supper.
Father Patton felt giddy as a schoolboy as his mind raced to make the connections.
Even though the bible is vague on the details about Gethsemane’s actual purpose, they do know that Jesus walked through a lush garden with olive tress. However, there was no sign of an olive oil press system in that they had looked through so far.
What did that leave them with?
Father Patton suggested they test the ancient plaster and tub for old olive pollen particles. Maybe that would give them a better heading to move towards? All he knew was there was something astounding right beneath their feet – something that brought them so much closer to a miracle. But he did have a warning for anyone who heard about the dig site.
As much as people would want to jump to conclusions about part of the New Testament, there was still no real proof their assumptions were totally correct.
Who knows what was waiting for them under countless years of rubble? Patton was now torn.
The religious side of him felt like jumping with joy
“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 archaeological findings.”
However, the archaeologist side of him knew to wait for more, concrete proof.
This would be one of the greatest tests of his life. The place where thousands of pilgrims had come (and would continue to come) to pray where Jesus had spent his final free moments, was so much closer to being real for the entire world.