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Jerusalem’s Armenian Church of St. James

Although the Armenian community keeps to itself visitors are welcome to walk through the Quarter and to visit Saint James Church and the small Armenian Museum nearby. The Armenian Quarter is accessed through the Zion Gate or the Jaffa Gate. The Armenian Quarter of the Old City is the smallest of the Quarters taking up about a 6th of the space within the walls. Approximately 1,000 Armenians live and work in the Old City.

Who are the Armenian’s of Jerusalem?

The Armenians have a defined and unique religion, ethnicity, language and nationality. Early in the 4th century Armenia became one of the first countries in the Roman Empire to accept Christianity. Following this many Armenian Christians made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem and ended up staying. They came to settle in the Holy City to be closer to the Biblical sites and gradually over the course of many years and under the rule of Romans, Crusaders, Ottomans and others they acquired the land which became the Armenian Quarter. The Armenian community of Jerusalem is identified with artistic crafts, specifically glazed and painted ceramics, printing and paintings as well as academics.

The Armenian St James Church

At the heart of the Armenian Quarter is their main church and the seat of the Armenian Patriarch of Jerusalem. The church dates back to the 12th century, although it is not a large church every inch is covered in some kind of decoration or point of interest. Visitors arrive at the entrance doorway where an Arab inscription dated 1488 guarantees safety to St. James Armenian Convent of Jerusalem. The church entrance on the western side is an ornate piece of work from the 17th century decorated with ceramics, murals and metal work. On either side of the entrance are decorative windows with the signature Armenian designs using metal, stone and glazed ceramics. Notice the unique Armenian crosses (Katshkerim) and the grave of the Armenian Patriarch which is covered with intricate iconic paintings.

Within the church three prayer altars along the northern wall are dedicated to Bishop Makarios, one of the early Bishops of Jerusalem; Saint James and the oldest room in the church from the 6th century is dedicated to Minas, an Armenian Saint. It is believed that St. James (Yaakov) was decapitated by Herod in 44AD and that his head is buried in this church. The head is believed to be buried beneath the star pattern on the floor. Another James is also thought to have been buried here. James, the brother of Jesus and also the first Bishop of Jerusalem is buried beneath the central Capella or Opsis.

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