VATICAN CITY - Olive trees in the Jerusalem garden revered by
Christians as the place where Jesus Christ prayed before he was crucified have
been dated to at least 900 years old, a study released on Friday
The results of tests on trees in the Garden of Gethsemane have
not settled the question of whether the gnarled trees are the very same which
sheltered Jesus, where the Bible says he prayed and was later betrayed by Judas,
because olive trees can grow back from roots after being cut down, researchers
"We cannot rule out the possibility that there was an intervention
to rejuvenate them when they stopped being productive or dried out," Chief
Researcher Professor Antonio Cimato said at a presentation of the results in
"But let me say: plants of greater age than our olives are not
cited in the scientific literature. Our olives are among the oldest broad-leaved
trees in the world," Cimato said.
Carbon dating showed that samples taken
from the oldest part of the trunks of three of the eight trees came from the
years 1092, 1166 and 1198, according to the study by the National Research
Council of Italy Trees and Timber Institute and academics from five Italian
The other five trees at Gethsemane - which means "oil
press" in Aramaic, the language spoken by Jesus - could not be tested as they
are so gnarled that their trunks have become hollowed out, with only newer
Referred to several times in the New Testament, the
grove is at the foot of the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, an important site for
the Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths.
Yet despite their great age, the
study showed the trees were in excellent health and had not been affected by
lead pollution in the area.
Analysis of their DNA found they were planted
from the same parent plant, possibly in an attempt to preserve a particular
lineage, according to researchers.
Pierbattista Pizzaballa, who is
Custodian of the Holy Land at the Franciscan order that maintains the site, said
this could show a deliberate attempt to pass on a precious heritage for future
"The question is not if these are the very trees, but if
this is the place referred to in the gospels. And it is the place, of that there
is no doubt," said Pizzaballa
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