The Armenian Patriarchate
The monastery of
By Assadour Antreassian
Armenian Monastery of St. James occupies the entire summit of Mount Zion,
with an area of about 150,000 sq. m (300 acres). It is one-sixth of the
entire area of the Old City of Jerusalem within the walls. Apart from the
cathedral of St. James, there are many buildings and historic sites located
within the monastery.
the convent and passing through the first door on the left, one comes to
the courtyard of the cathedral of St. James, which, in the past, served
as the resting place of the Armenian patriarchs and members of the monastic
community. Some of the tombstones are very interesting records of the history
of the monastery and the patriarchate. Among the oldest is that of ...
" Bishop Abraham and Patriarch of the Apostolic See of Jerusalem during
the reign of Sultan Saladin 1192 A.D. " Besides these, there are many old
khatchkars, beautifully designed cross-stones dating back to different
The St. James Cathedral stands on
the spot where [according to tradition ] the head of St. James the Major,
brother of John, who was beheaded by Herod Agrippa in 44 A.D., was buried
(under the northern wall of the present church)... The remains of St. James
the Less (the first bishop of Jerusalem) were trasferred from the Cedron
valley in the 4th century, and buried in his home. At present, both graves
are within the cathedral.
to tradition; a chapel was built on the spot of the decapitation of St.
James the Major, as early as the 1st century. However, there are many evidences
that the foundations of the first church built upon these sacred spots
were laid in the 4th century. , The original church was partly destroyed
by the Persians in 614, repaired in the 8th century, finally reconstructed
in the 1lth century. Numerous additions were made on the main body of the
church during these reconstructions. During a minor restoration work in
1957, a wail dating back to the 4th century was found in the cathedral.
According to an inscription, the oldest part of the cathedral is the portion
which falls directly under the northern wall of the present construction,
including the chapel of the decapitation of St. James the Major and the
chapel of St. Minas. The cathedral, with its arches resting on four massive
columns, the magnificent gilded altars, the old paintings, the precious
Kutahya blue tiles of the walls and the shafts of light piercing through
the high windows of the dome, has an atmosphere of religious fervour. Its
length is 24 m, with a width of 17.5 m. It is divided by four pillars into
three aisles, which support the main dome of remarkable structure, set
on eight interlaced arches. All the walls and the massive columns, from
the floor to a height of 2 m, are covered by blue tiles made by Armenians
from Kutahya in the l7th century.
At the entrance to the Cathedral,
a large plaque marks the site of the grave of Jerusalem's 94th Armenian
Patriarch, the late Archbishop Guregh Israelian. One of the city's most
popular and charismatic men of the cloth. Israelian died in 1949, of a
broken heart it is said, after witnessing the intolerable suffering of
his war-ravaged flock, caught in the crossfire of war-time hostilities.
More than once, he would cradle in his own arms, the shrapnel-shredded
body of an Armenian who had been the latest casualty in the unrelenting
unpretentious grave sits under an archway a few paces away, at the other
end of the vestibule. This one is the last resting place of the Armenian
Patriarch, Abraham, a contemporary of Saladdin.
Upon entering the Cathedral, one
is immediately captivated by the interior bedecked by centuries old "ganteghs"
(oil lamps) dangling from the soaring vaulted dome and tallow candles dotting
the three altars. The only source of light, the oil lamps, are still lovingly
tended by altar boys who replenish them with oil at regular intervals.
The candles, made by the Patriarchate's own candle-maker, try vainly to
dispel the elemental darkness that pervades the church, imparting a mystical
significance to Armenian church rites.
To the left, within the north wall
of the cathedral, is the chapel of St. Macarius, bishop of Jerusalem. Further
on is the entrance to the chapel of St. Minas, which is considered to be
the oldest part of the cathedral, dating back to the 4th c,entury. The
chapel of the Decapitation of St. James comes next. Further on, another
door leads to the chapel of St. Stephen, which serves also as the vestry
of the cathedral. In this chapel is the baptismal pond.
The cathedral has three main altars
: the one in the centre is the high altar, which is named after St. James
the Less; the one on the right after St. John the Baptist, and that on
the left after Virgin Mary. All the ornaments and wooden panels were decorated
and gilded in 1721. A passage in the southern wall of the cathedral leads
up to the upper chapels of St. Paul and St. Peter, which are above the
altars of Virgin Mary and St. John the Baptist. This passage has two very
ancient doors; the most interesting is the one which is behind the outer
door,built in 1371 with great artistic taste.
to this door, and on the south wall of the cathedral, is the entrance to
the narthex of the l2th century. The outside arcades have been walled up
since 1633, but the beautiful portal can well be recognized. This is called
the Church of St. Etchmiadzin. On its walls there are many tile pictures
(ceramics) representing the life of Christ and biblical stories, reproduced
from ancient Armenian manuscripts. These tiles are mostly dated 1718 and
are believed to be the work of Kutahya Armenians. From this church sixteen
steps lead up to the upper room of the cathedral, erected in 1835. During
the construction of this vestibule, many khatchkars and tombstones were
discovered, the oldest of which dates back to 11 51: it can be seen at
present on the west wall of the cathedral facing the courtyard.
The Church of St. Theodoros was built
by the Armenian King Hethum of Cilicia in 1266, in memory of his son Thoros
who was killed in the battle of Mari against the Egyptians. It is a beautiful
church, 18 m long and 9 m wide. All the walls are covered with Kutahya
tiles. There are also some very old and historically interesting khatchkars.
In this church is the Library of Armenian Manuscripts. There are, in all,
3,815 manuscripts. Bishop Norayr Bogharian was the custodian of this library.
He has prepared a complete and detailed catalogue of the manuscripts in
On the south-western corner of the
courtyard of the cathedral of St. James, a stairway leads up to the residence
of the Armenian Patriarch and the administrative offices of the Patriarchate.
Leaving the courtyard of the cathedral through the west door by turning
left, one walks along an arched passage and soon comes to the main courtyard
of the monastery. On the south and west of this courtyard are the buildings
of the old Printing Press, established in 1833 by Patriarch Zacharias,
thus having the distinction of being the first press in the Holy Land.
It is now the main provider of Armenian religious and liturgical books
to churches spread all over the world. The Patriarchate publishes its own
official bimonthly in Armenian, called " Sion ", the first issue of which
was printed in 1866, in the same printing press.
the main courtyard of the monastery to the south, and passing through a
small door and a narrow lane, one finally arrives at a small courtyard,
around which the cultural institutions of the Patriarchate are located.
The Gulbenkian Library was founded in 1929, through the generous donation
of the late Calouste Gulbenkian, in memory of his parents. It contains
almost 50,000 volumes, of which 20,000 are in Armenian, the rest being
in foreign languages, mainly in English and French. It receives about 300
different kinds of periodicals. It has also a complete collection of Armenian
newspapers and magazines, including the first Armenian newspaper called
" Azdarar ", which was published in Madras (India) in 1794. It has one
of the finest collections of old printed books in Armenian, including a
rare copy of the first one dated 1512 and printed in Venice.
Close to the Gulbenkian Library is
the the Edward and Helen Mardigian Museum of Armenian Art and Culture housing
historical and religious artifacts including precious rugs, Armenian coins
and scraps of evidence of the presence at the site of the Tenth Legion
The Theological Seminary is one of
the very important institutions of the patriarchate, where young candidates
for priesthood are trained and educated. It was established in 1843, and
has many buildings for the use of the seminarians. Recently, under the
administration of Patriarch Torkom Manoogian
major renovations have been undertaken to upgrade the cleric quarters and
various parts of the Seminary. The new Theological Seminary complex, (a
gift of the late Armenian-American philanthropists Alex and Marie Manoogian)
which is found outside the main Patriarchate, opposite the main gate of
the Patriarchate, houses a new printing press, a large hall used for graduation
ceremonies and various other events, a dormitory which can accommodate
over 100 young men, who readily enter the service of the Church and the
congregation, classrooms and various other administrative offices.
have been many educational institutions established by the Patriarchate
in the past, for the education of the Armenian young generation in Jerusalem.
It could be noted that the first girls' school in Jerusalem was the Gayaniants
Armenian School, established in 1863. St. Targmantchats School was established
and built in 1929, with kindergarten and elementary classes. The secondary
classes were added in 1953.
Leaving the building of this National
School, and going down some steps, we reach the Convent of St. Archangels
(House of Annas), which is also called in Arabic Deir-el-Zeituneh (convent
of the Olive Tree) named after the walled up tree outside the church, and
to which, so it is piously held, Christ was tied on the night when he was
brought to be judged by Annas, the high Priest. According to tradition,
there has been a chapel built on this site as early as the 4th century,
in honour of the Angels who, according to the expression of the Church
Fathers, covered their faces, when their God was struck by a servant of
the high priest; this happened, by tradition, in the house of Annas. However,
the present church was built in the l2th century. The Armenian king Leo
III of Cilicia repaired the church in 1286, when the outer wall of the
convent was built. Entering the convent by a vestibule, one may turn right
to enter the church by a portico, on the walls of which can be seen many
khatchkars: the oldest one is dated 1362. At present, the church of St.
Archangels is the parish church of the Armenians in Jerusalem. Also, within
the walls of its grounds lived the Armenian Sisters of the monastery.
It is worth mentioning that a small
Armenian community (about thousand and five hundred or so) reside within
the walls of St. James Armenian convent.