So, a happy journey…
In the early fourth century (301 A.D.)the Armenian Kingdom, under king Tiridates III, became the first state to adopt Christianity as a state religion. What is more, it’s happened 25 years before the proclamation of the Christian state of Byzantium by Emperor Constantine the Great. Soon Armenian pilgrims flocked to the Holy land. They have settled in Jerusalem, and to the XII century the Armenian quarter reached its present size. There the Armenian Apostolic Church possesses the Thrones in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, in the Church of the Dormition of the Mother of God and in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.
Being on Ararat street and Armenian Patriarchate road, one may immediately notice the unique atmosphere of antiquity. The quarter has been once densely populated by Armenian families. In the XX century they fled to Jerusalem from Turkey, escaping the Genocide. Eventually, the population has reached 16 thousands people. A large number of Armenians had fled from Jerusalem during the war for independence in 1948. During the six day war in 1967, the quarter area came under intensive bombing, which resulted in numerous casualties and destruction. Most families left the city. After 1967, they were little more than a thousand in number. Many empty buildings moved to the Jewish quarter.
Now the amount of the Armenian people in Jerusalem is diminished ten times. But despite that the character, flavor and identity of the Armenian quarter do not resemble anything else in the Old City, and this uniqueness is represented in culture, art and worship.
Pilgrims often marvel at the unusual attire of the Armenian clergy. But it could be easily explained. A sharply angular black cowl which looks, at first glance, unusual and disturbing, in fact, indicates that thoughts of a monk should be directed towards God.
The Cathedral has two entrances – the right one is traditionally used by women and the left one is for men and the clergy. Two small altars (St. George – Surb Gevorg and St. Nicholas) are covered with copper shutters.
Two old beaters made of brass and wooden, served in ancient times to indicate the beginning of the worship service, hang at the entrance to the temple. In the courtyard of the Cathedral and inside there are picturesque paintings, which depict biblical scenes, Armenian kings, saints and martyrs. The main altar is dedicated to St. James, the right altar is dedicated to the virgin Mary and the left – to Saint John the Baptist. On the right side of the Cathedral there is a skillfully decorated door, allegedly hidden between two columns. It leads to the Church of Surb Etchmiadzin (Holy Etchmiadzin). Here the Sinai altar stands with three stones beneath it: from mount Sinai, mount Tabor and the river Jordan.
Every corner of the Armenian monastery is decorated with handmade tiles. They have been made in the 18th century in the town of Kutina (Ketaya), located in 200 kilometers from Constantinople. Since the 14th century it is the town of Armenian artists, confirming the fact that the Armenian art is magnificent and distinctive.
While going sightseeings around Jerusalem, one may pay attention to the windows of the workshops, where Armenian potters and artists have been working. One can safely open a door with the bell and turn the mind to the bright world of birds, fish, flowers, tangerines and pomegranates. The pottery in Armenia takes its origin from the 9th century B.C. Then, housewares, jugs, vases and other utensils were being manufactured without any ornament. Over time, drawings have appeared. A technology of their application and drying has formed.
The main events in the history of the Armenian people as the adoption of Christianity and the invention of the alphabet, have influenced on subjects of art. Encouraged masters painted biblical scenes, illustrations to ancient manuscripts, decorating the subjects with images of lilies, grapes, lotus, animals, birds and fish. All this has joined together into a unique style and has been termed as the “Armenian ceramics”, which is popular all over the world.
Ceramic materials consist of clay with quartz sand and lime. The mixture is formed either by a pattern, or on a potter’s wheel and then fired in a kiln at a temperature of 900 degrees. A drawing is to be prepared and carefully copied. The contours are being drawn with black color, then being painted and covered with a special glaze. After that, the product is being dried at a temperature of 1000 degrees. Red-blue, blue-white, green plates, pitchers, tables and trays are pleasing the eye and invigorating. The most popular product is the ceramic grenades. The pomegranate is a symbol of unity of the Armenian people. Just as small grains firmly sit together in one fruit, and so Armenians should be as one family.
In 1896, when laying the groundwork near the Damascus Gate of Jerusalem a mosaic fragment was discovered with a size of 6.5 by 3 meters. This intact mosaic is composed of pictures of twenty species of birds. This is a unique example of Armenian culture. There is an inscription on it in Armenian: “In memory and in the redemption of all Armenians whose names are known only to God.”
The entrance is located near the Cathedral of Surb Hakob. During the Israeli-Arab war in 1948 many residents of the city found a refuge at this convent. Then there was opened one more bakery in addition. Later it moved to the central part of the quarter and is being specialized on “Armenian pizza” making called “lakhmadzhun”. It’s a combination of flour, minced meat, vegetables and plenty of spices. The monastery has a medical center, a bookstore and a printing house. It was created by Bishop Zackarias and is considered to be the first in Jerusalem. The equipment and letters are handmade.
The present Armenian publishing house in the Holy land, equipped with computers and modern equipment, publishes a variety of sacred and secular literature in the Armenian language. The most popular is the magazine “Zion,” which has been publishing since 1866.
Massive black metal doors lead into the living space of the brotherhood of St. Hakob. In Armenian it’s called “Baptizatag” that means “garden quarter”. Here communal cells and rooms for pilgrims are placed. There is a library there, opened in 1901 and named in honor of philanthropist Calouste Gulbenkian. Today it is the largest book depository in the Old city on the area of 418 square meters, where thousands of books in different languages are being stored. Adjacent to that place, the Museum and the Armenian school of translators of the Bible are located.
Church of The Holy Archangels
Church of the Holy Archangels (arm. Հրեշտակապետաց Սուրբ Եկեղեցի (Surbots Hreshtakapetats), the second major Armenian church in Jerusalem, snug and beloved by many pilgrims, is located deep in the Armenian quarter. His father Ghevond (Hovhannisyan) is in active missionary work. He publishes books and magazines, engages with youth, leads the category “Questions to the Priest” in Internet, conducts spiritual conversations with pilgrims from different countries. He is also the pastor of the Armenian population outside the walls of the Church. According to the canons of the Armenian Church, twice a year, after Christmas and Easter, houses of believers have to be consecrated.
The church stands near the site where in the time of Jesus stood the house of the high priest Annas. Here the ancient Olive Tree grows to which, according to Legend, our Lord was tied before being tried in the night of His arrest. While questioning Jesus in the courtyard of the house of high priest Annas, one of the servants, standing by, struck Our Saviour with his hand upon the face. The boldness with which the Son of God was slapped terrified the holy angels and they covered their faces with their wings. So the Church has taken its name from that episode. They say that the old spreading olive tree is miraculous. Miracles are related to barren women and those suffering from other diseases what is described in the old monastic books about. Inside the Church on the left is a room that previously was in the house of the high priest Annas. There Jesus was incarcerated for some time before taken to Caiaphas.
This chapel is called the First Prison of Jesus. On the left side of the Church is an ancient baptismal font, surrounded by Armenian crosses, discovered recently during restoration work.
Now in the abode there is one monk – father Ghevond. Formerly it was a nunnery with many nuns. Here they lived in tiny cells. But over time, at the Armenian Church of Jerusalem no women-nuns left. Nowadays, Armenian families live in those cells.
Opposite Zion gate, from the right, there is a restricted area in the Armenian quarter, closed for visiting. It is the Armenian cemetery, the tombs of the Armenian patriarchs and an important place for all Christians – the Mansion of high priest Caiaphas, more exactly, the temple on the site of this infamous building. It is sufficient to recall the Gospel events in order to understand what a crucial role has played this piece of land in the history of mankind. But, unfortunately, today this area is abandoned, constructions are overgrown with grass, from the ancient church only the altar has come to us, allegedly talking to mankind of its depravity and unwillingness to get better.
In the 7th century A.D. in the Holy Land Armenians owned about 70 monasteries, now only about ten of them left. Many of them need major repairs.
Let us believe that the restoration of Armenian relics is yet to come. And many generations of pilgrims will touch the knees to the ground in worship there.