The   Cathedral   of   St.   James,   the   jewel   of   the Armenian   Patriarchate   of   Jerusalem,   lies just   beyond   its   entry   gate.   It   has   been   built   on   the   site   of   the   tombs   of   St.   James,   the Apostle,   and   St.   James   the   brother   of   the   Lord.   A   magnificent   edifice   dating   from   the 12th   century   with   mostly   18th   century   decoration   because   of   the   renewal   work   carried out   by   the   late   Patriarch,   Gregory   the   Chainbearer   (1715-1749),   it   ranks   as   one   of the most awe-inspiring in all of the Middle East.      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 war.      Another   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 t          h          e            Cathedral,    one    is    immediately    captivated    by the      interior bedecked     by     centuries     old     "ganteghs"     (oil l    a    m    p    s    )      dangling    from    the    soaring    vaulted    dome    and t    a    l    l    o    w      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   of   the   entrance   are   three   small   chapels.   The   first   from   the   entrance contains   the   tomb   of   Makarios,   the   bishop   of   Jerusalem   in   the   fourth   century.   The   third from   the   entrance   is   the   shrine   where   the   head   of   St.   James   the   Apostle   is   entombed. Armenians   believe   that   he   was   buried   here   in   the   first   century   after   his   execution   by   King Herod   Agrippa   I.        In   the   chancel,   beyond   the   fence,   are   two   thrones.   The   one   closest to   the   pier   with   the   canopy   is   the   symbolic   throne   of   St.   James,   the   brother   of   the   Lord, and   first   bishop   of   Jerusalem,   who   is   buried   beneath   the   high   altar.   The   Patriarch   stands in   front   of   this   throne   once   a   year   on   the   feast   of   St.   James   in   early   January   to   symbolize his   place   in   the   succession   of   the   bishops   of   Jerusalem.   The   other   throne   is   the   one normally used by the Patriarch.      The   Cathedral   has   in   the   past   also   served   as   a   bomb   shelter.   During   the   1948   Arab- Israeli    war,    the    only    sanctuary    from    the    daily    bombardment    of    the    city    that    the Armenians   could   find   was   within   the   solid,   reassuring   confines   of   their   Cathedral,   with   its one-meter   thick   walls.   During   one   particularly   memorable   night,   over   1,000   shells   of   all kinds,   including   the   dreaded   mortar,   landed   on   and   around   the   Cathedral.   But   not   a single   casualty   did   they   claim.   Many   believers   would   later   swear   that   they   had   seen   a mysterious   figure,   dressed   in   white,   standing   vigil   on   the   roof   of   the   Cathedral,   warding off   the   shower   of   missiles   with   his   hands.   Believers   assert   that   it   was   none   other   than   St. James the Elder.
Armenian Jerusalem
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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the most magnificent Cathedral in Jerusalem