Armenian Jerusalem
for the first time in 200 years
This project has been supported by the Gulbenkian philanthropic Foundation, the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem, and members of the worldwide Armenian community. Reproductions of the genealogical documents [domar’s] are courtesy Photo Garo, Jerusalem. Copyright © 2007 Arthur Hagopian
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aster   in   Jerusalem   in   2016   is   bound   to   go   down   in   history   as   one   of   the   most   memorable   the Holy   Land   has   experienced   in   decades,   following   the   momentous   announcement   of   plans   to renovate the tomb of Jesus, located in the Holy Sepulchre Church, after a 200-year hiatus.     The   news   has   been   greeted   with   widespread   acclaim   throughout   the   Christian   world,   troubled as    it    is    by    the    prevalent    feeling    of    insecurity    and    spiritual    anguish    in    the    wake    of    the horrendous wave of terrorism gripping our planet.      "About time," one Facebook subscriber commented.      "Our   congregations      need   regular   such   shots   in   the   arm   to   rekindle   their   faith,   and   arm   them against the evils of the world," one priest confided.      "Hallelujah Jerusalem!" proclaimed another believer.                The   announcement   by   the   three   Guardians   of   the   Holy   Places,   the   Greek   Orthodox   and   Armenian Patriarchates   and   the   Franciscan   Custodia,   indicated   a   welcome   breach   in   the   unending   impasse   that   has hampered   restoration   work   at   dangerously   crumbling   portions   of   the   Holy   Sepulchre,   centre   of   pilgrimage for thousands of Christians every year.                The   new   development   reinforces   the   conviction   that   the   three   Guardians   have   succeeded   in   burying their   differences   sufficiently   to   assert   they   are   ready   to   begin   the   restoration   work   at   the   tomb   at   the earliest opportunity.                The   tomb   of   Jesus   lies   within   an   enclosure,   the   Edicule,   that   sports   a   number   of   long   openings   in   its wall:   it   is   from   one   of   these   holes   that   the   miraculous   holy   fire   bursts   out   into   the   world   on   the   Saturday before Easter.                Work   is   scheduled   to   start   within   weeks   with   completion   expected   by   the   end   of   the   year.   Armenian renovation   experts   will   be   in   the   vanguard   of   the   team   that   will   undertake   the   painstaking   work.   The University of Florence is also expected to field its own experts.                This   will   be   the   first   time   in   over   two   centuries   that   the   Edicule   is   being   refurbished.   The   last   time   such an enterprise had been launched was in 1810, following a destructive fire two years earlier.               According   to   the   Greek   Patriarchate   of   Jerusalem   the   decision   to   embark   on   the   restoration   project   was based   on   the   recommendation   of   a   team   of   specialists   from   the   National   Technical   University   of Athens   who arrived at their conclusion following a technical examination of the structure.                The   action   has   been   spurred   by   reports   from   the   architects   who   are   also   to   take   part   in   the      work,   of structural   damage   to   the   building   caused   by   condensation   from   the   breath   of   the   thousands   of   pilgrims   who visit the church every year.    This is leading to a deterioration in the fabric of the mortars.          The   report      also   cited   the   use   of   lighted   candles   that   cause   a   great   deal   of   thermal   stress   on   the   marble used in building the Edicule.                It   is   understood   that   the   Edicule   will   be   dismantled   piece   by   piece   so   the   damaged   parts   can   be replaced.               The   church,   one   of   the   most   venerated   spiritual   edifice   for   the   whole   of   the   Christian   world,   will   remain open for worship as the restoration progresses.             While   no   estimate   of   the   cost   of   the   repairs   is   available,   it   is   understood   that   the   three   Guardians   will bear the major load with contributions from other denominations that share custody of the church.             The   announcement   is   of   particular   ecumenical   significance   because   it   puts   an   end   to   the   inertia   gripping the   Guardians   and   breaks   the   impasse   that   has   prevented   them,   for   years,      from   moving   ahead   with   vital restoration works within the church.                "Things   have   not   been   made   easy   with   each   of   the   various   churches   placing   a   sometimes   conflicting interpretation   of   the   1853   status   quo"   that   governs   relations   among   them   all   and   sets   down   in   minute   detail the   principles   and   parameters   of   demarcation,   responsibilities   and   jurisdiction   over   the   holy   sites   in   the Holy Land, according to a local historian.            The   status   quo   came   into   force   following   the   issue   of   a   "firman"   (decree)   by   the   Ottoman   overlords   grown weary   of   the   unending   turf   battles   among   the   various   Christian   denominations,   that   often   resulted   in physical violence.             However,   the   fact   that   the   keys   to   the   only   entrance   to   the   church   have   been   entrusted   for   safekeeping to   two   non-Christian   families,   the   Nusseibehs   and   Judehs,   has   somewhat   helped      ease   further   tension.   The practice   is   said   to   stem   back   to   a   decision   made   by   the   Caliph   Omar   who,   after   entering   Jerusalem   in   638, had   rejected   his   generals'   entreaty   to   pray   inside   the   Holy   Sepulchre,      as   would   have   been   their   right   as conquerors.                Instead,   Omar   had   picked   up   a   stone   and   flung   it   as   far   as   he   could,   telling   his   men   to   pray   where   it landed.