Rediscovering Armenia Guidebook- Armenian Quarter Of Jerusalem

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Rediscovering Armenia Guidebook
Intro, Yerevan, Aragatsotn, Ararat, Armavir, Gegharkunik, Kotayk, Lori, Shirak, Syunik, Tavush, Vayots Dzor, Karabakh (Askeran, Hadrut, Martakert, Martuni, Shushi), Nakhichevan, Western Armenia, Cilicia, Georgia, Jerusalem, Maps, Index

Jerusalem is a unique city, with the old city full of alleyways, courtyards, markets, ancient history, Jerusalem stone... and of course the 3 big religions of the West, Islam, Christianity, and Judaism. The Armenian presence here is ancient, beginning as the first Armenian Christians began making pilgrimages - soon after the apostles Bartholomew and Thaddeus settled in Armenia to convert it. The Armenian Quarter is thus likely one of Jerusalem's oldest ethnic neighborhoods. The two focal points of the Armenian presence are the St James Cathedral, in the heart of the Armenian Quarter, and the portions of the Holy Sepulcher that belong to the Armenian Church. The Holy Sepulchre is an amazing church and you should explore the whole thing from the top... which is an Ethiopian Monastery, to the bottom, which is an Armenian Crypt Chapel where the true cross is said to have been found. Before you even enter the church, by the main entrance, you will see some Armenian graffiti carved into the walls. Then when you enter directly in front of you is the stone on which Jesus was prepared for the grave. To the right is a stairwell leading to the stone that Jesus' cross was placed. If you look across from that balcony there is another one that is closed to the general public. It is the location of an Armenian chapel. To the left of Jesus' tomb is an Armenian souvenir room. Pick up some incense, some Armenian crosses, etc. If you go way to the right of the church you will see a descending stairwell into the Armenian basement chapel. It is next to the spot where Jesus' cross was found (down the stairs to the right). There are other Armenian things in the church as well. If you want a tour or anything else, ask the Armenian guy in the souvenir shop if someone could show you around, explain things to you... they were very nice and friendly to me.

The St. James Cathedral in the Armenian Quarter is a great church in a city of churches (as well as synagogues and mosques). It is filled with lamps and history. Be sure to stay after the service and ask to be shown around! This is the only way to see everything, or else you get less than half of it. Later you can go to the Armenian museum, which is rather small and very unimpressive, but if you have an hour to kill or are unfamiliar with things Armenian it is really cheap and would be worth it for you. There really isn't too much else for the public in the Armenian Quarter, a couple of souvenir shops and eateries. The thing the Armenians are well known for are their tiles. There are Armenian tile shops all over the city, and they sell all sorts of traditional tile as well as custom signs. They make all the street signs in the old city out of ceramic. There are also other Armenian sites in the city. The Armenian Catholic Patriarchate, in the Muslim quarter, is also one of the stations of the cross. Well, if all this hasn't convinced you to go I don't know what will. (Other spots in Jesus's life (at least traditionally), in other parts of Jerusalem, that may be of interest to the Armenian visitor, include the Via Dolorosa (Way of Sorrow) and the site of the Jerusalem Temple (which is on the Temple Mount or the Haram, which is where the Dome of the Rock sits).

  • Armenian Ceramics. The tiles and pottery of The Balian Armenian Ceramics have been exhibited all over the world in various museums and institutions. The zenith being the solo exhibition at the Smithsonian Museum of Washington D.C. in 1992. Our pottery has also been the subject of numerous articles in magazines and newspapers worldwide, among which The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, The Chicago Tribune and The New York Times.

(Some of this material should be move from this page to a non-tourism focused page)


Visit to Armenian Jerusalem

Ynetnews, Israel Nov 20 2005

Come to discover uniqueness of Armenian Quarter Ron Peled

The Armenian and Jewish peoples have several things in common: Both have a defined religion and nationality, both have a past of continuous pogroms and persecutions, and both have been subjected to genocide - the Armenians during the first World War and the Jews during the second. Both peoples have realized their age-old dreams of national independence in the modern period, we in 1948, and the Armenians in 1991.

To our happiness, both Jews and Armenians have quarters in the Old City of Jerusalem - and this time we will visit the pearl of the Armenian Quarter, The Saint James Church.

The uniqueness of the Armenian Quarter is its being placed within its own walls, in addition to the walls of the Old City. The Quarter, sort of its own enclosed ghetto, takes up around a sixth of the territory of the Old City, and is home to around 2,000 Armenian, both secular and religious (another point in common with the Jewish people). Most earn a livelihood from local businesses, artwork (like the famous ceramics), printing and academe.

Most of the Armenian Quarter is closed to foreigners outside the framework of organized tour groups arranged in advance. The Church and the Armenian museum that is located not far from it are the only places open to the broad public.

The romance of the Armenians with Christianity is one of the earliest: They were the first people that converted to Christianity, even before Emperor Constantine declared Christianity the religion of the Roman Empire. The holy books were translated already into Armenian in that period, and the Armenian community in Jerusalem is the oldest in the world.

Entry to Saint James Church is open to the public only between the hours of 3:00-3:30 p.m. every day, prayer time for the monks and priests and it is important not to miss it.

The Armenian Quarter is most easily accessed from Zion or Jaffa Gates, both of which feature parking lots nearby. From either, follow the road around 200 meters (656 ft) to a sign indicating the entrance to the Armenian Quarter. The Quarter's adorned gate leads to an antique wooden door, behind which is a plaza leading straight into the church.

Nakos and Katshkerim

Engraved in the wall over the wooden door are a number of ancient Armenian inscriptions, decorations and crosses, called "Katshkerim." They have great artistic importance and they are considered rare in our environs. Pay attention to the grave of the Armenian Patriarch and its impressive iconic painting attached to the wooden gate.

Inside the Church are two hanging tablets - a wooden tablet on the right and an iron tablet on the left. These are the "Nakos" -cymbals. Until the mid 19th century and the end of the rule of Egyptian Muhammad Ali, Muslims forbid Christians to ring the church bells (in a certain period they also forbid Jews from blowing the shofar). Today the Nakos call the priests to prayer

As a point of interest, additional "Nakos" can be seen in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Christian Quarter.

Don't cross your legs

It is important to remember that speaking in the Church is forbidden. In addition, the monks will not allow guests to cross their legs while sitting. Photography is permitted, although I was asked once not to use flash.

The present structure, built in the shape of a cross, dates to the 12th century. It is small, but there is infinite wealth for the eye to see (and is likely to cause shock among some visitors).

We raise our glance to the dome, featuring an impressive Star of David. To the left on the northern wall are three Capella, or prayer altars, dedicated to three individuals: Bishop Makarios, one of the first bishops of Jerusalem, the second, James, is the church's namesake and is Armenia's holiest saint; the third is in a small room dedicated to Minas, the Armenian Saint. This is the oldest room in the Church, dating to the sixth century.

Story of two Yaakovs

James, known in Hebrew as Yaakov, the brother of Johannan, was one of the twelve disciples of Jesus of Nazareth. According to Christian tradition his head was chopped off by Herod Agrippas in the year 44 CE. His head is buried here, in a small room off the Church, and the rest of his body is scattered in burial sites around the Church.

A star on the floor of the Capella indicates the place where the head is buried. Pay attention to the entry doors to the tomb, as they are decorated with the armor of turtles and clams. Many believers enter the church especially to kiss the opening to James' tomb.

In the center of the church is the central Capella, called in Christianity "Opsis". Here, the altar another Yaakov is buried, the brother of Jesus and the first Bishop of Jerusalem. His body was brought here from Nahal Kidron.

A Chain and Eggs

Broad renovation work was undertaken in the church at the beginning of the 18th century by the Armenian Patriarch Gregory "Bearer of the Chain". He received the nickname because he wore a heavy chain around his neck as a sign of enslavement, until he obtained the money to repay debts in which the Armenian community in Jerusalem had become submerged. His journey through Armenia succeeded beyond expectations and the money he collected was even sufficient to rehabilitate the church and build the walls of the Quarter.

Those familiar with Jerusalem churches such as the Holy Sepulchre or Miriam's Tomb in Nahal Kidron will know that Orthodox churches and cappella often contain oil lamps hung from the ceiling. Over every lamp and at the end of every rope it is possible to see ceramic ostrich eggs decorated with various paintings and drawings (that symbolize the various streams of Christianity).

Today the eggs are a pleasant decoration, but in the past they are believed to have played a more crucial role: Mice and rats used to climb the walls and descend the rope to the lamp, an entertaining perhaps but not especially popular among the monks. The slippery ostrich eggs caused the rodents to slip off the rope.

Saint James Church: Every day 15:00-15:30. The entry is free of charge, Tel: 02-6282331

Armenian Museum: Monday through Saturday 9:30-16:30 Tel: 02-6282331

See also


External Resources

Rediscovering Armenia Guidebook
Intro, Yerevan, Aragatsotn, Ararat, Armavir, Gegharkunik, Kotayk, Lori, Shirak, Syunik, Tavush, Vayots Dzor, Karabakh (Askeran, Hadrut, Martakert, Martuni, Shushi), Nakhichevan, Western Armenia, Cilicia, Georgia, Jerusalem, Maps, Index

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