The architect Antonio Barluzzi
The architect Antonio Barluzzi (1884-1960), Roman by birth, dedicated his life to the Holy Land, designing nine new Sanctuaries on behalf of the Custody, among which the earliest were those of Gethsemane and Mount Tabor, followed by numerous others.
Barluzzi brought to the Holy Land a new type of architecture. Up to that point designers had continued to follow styles from previous eras, reconstructing churches having Crusader Gothic, Byzantine and classical form.
Barluzzi, a man of profound faith, felt the need to avoid “generic architecture, which always repeats the same word”, as he aptly explained in his article on Nuova architettura dei Santuari in Terra Santa (“New architecture of the Sanctuaries in the Holy Land”), published in 1951 in a volume commemorating the sixth centenary of the founding of the Custody of the Holy Land.
The Sanctuaries designed by an architect should express in the clearest manner the call to the “mystery of the life of Christ” in order to assist the faithful to enter into the spirit of the place, “predisposing the mind to meditation, to the expansion of the heart” (A. Barluzzi, Nuova architettura dei Santuari in Terra Santa, in “Custodia di Terra Santa, 1342-1942”, 1951, p. 98).
Having received the commission for the new Church of all Nations at Gethsemane, a commission which also involved the design of the Sanctuary on Mount Tabor, Barluzzi modified his design, in terms of dimensions and orientation, in response to the discoveries that were made about the Byzantine church from the fourth century.
The church was conceived as a single unique space, interrupted only by two rows of six columns, in which the interior light would be filtered through scarlet-toned opalescent glass, in memory of the night of Jesus’ agony. The mosaics decorating the apses were inspired by the events that took place at Gethsemane: the agony, the arrest with the kiss of Judas, and Ego Sum. The decorations on the vaults and small domes bring to mind the olives in the garden and the starry night, while the golden dome above the presbytery alludes to the heavenly mystery. Everything is conducive to meditation and prayer, with the focal point being the bare rock visible near the altar, testifying to Jesus' suffering prayer in Gethsemane.
An innovation was the decision to reproduce the original floor mosaics and to mark the location of the perimeter of the walls of the original church with its drainage channels, cistern and tombs in the atrium.
The exterior follows the lines of classical architecture, with a solemn pronaos (inner area of the portico) supported by columns and surmounted by a tympanum; the architect’s stylistic choices were a conscious attempt to resist the nationalistic tendencies of the time which led many countries to build their own churches in the Holy Land. The Church of All Nations should indeed represent them all.
The mosaic on the tympanum, for which a competition was announced in 1926 to choose the best design, represents the glorification of God through the sacrifice of the life of Jesus, who became intercessor for the prayers of all humanity.
In describing his work the architect, who left his own mark by having himself represented on the vault of the dome in the right apse, noted “the strong harmony of form and matter with the sense of the sacred memory on which the Sanctuary is based. And if it will have contributed to easing the tears of faithful souls for the sufferings of Christ”, he went on to say, “then I will have achieved the height of artistic success” (A. Barluzzi, Nuova architettura dei Santuari in Terra Santa, in “Custodia di Terra Santa, 1342-1942”, 1951, p. 102).