Thursday, August 26, 2004

The Armenians in Jerusalem (Cont'd)

The Armenian Orthodox Patriarchate and Monastery

The Armenian Patriarchate is one of the three Brotherhoods in Jerusalem that, together, share the responsibility and inestimable privilege of being Custodians of Holy Places, such as the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Garden of Gethsemane, the Grave of the Holy Virgin Mary, the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, and other places.

The Armenian Orthodox Monastery is located on historic Mount Zion, with an area of about 300 acres, almost one sixth of the walled Old City. Apart from the Cathedral of St. James, other historic sites and buildings located within the area of the Patriarchate are: the Church of St. Saviour (the house of Caiaphas), the Church of Holy Archangels (the house of Annas the High Priest), the Chapel of St. Theodorus, the National Cemetery, the Patriarchate’s Secretariat, the Patriarchal residence and Seminary (established in 1843), the Calouste Gulbenkian Library (currently under restoration and renovation), and the Mardigian Museum. The Patriarchate also houses the second largest Armenian manuscript library in the world. It maintains as well an extensive collection of priceless vestments and vessels, inscriptions, paintings, a small bookstore, and two printing plants. The St. James Press, founded in 1833, is the oldest in Jerusalem. Armenians also own a historic seafront monastery in Jaffa, one in Ramleh, a large monastery in Bethlehem, adjacent to the Basilica of the Nativity, as well as other real estate holdings in Israel.

Under Muslim rule, the Armenian patriarchs of Jerusalem and the members of the St. James Brotherhood succeeded in protecting the rights of the Armenian Church – frequently at the cost of their lives. The Patriarchate has remained a haven for Armenian refugees throughout its history. From 1915 to 1923, during the first genocide of the 20th century, more than a million and a half of our faithful were massacred by the Ottoman Turks. This became know as the Armenian Genocide, and during that time, thousands of refugees and orphans were taken in by the Patriarchate.

Throughout the past several centuries, the St. James Brotherhood, headed by able and talented patriarchs, has preserved intact the Patriarchate, its real estate holdings, and various other Armenian sites, and has turned Jerusalem into a major center of research and learning.
The present Patriarch – the 96th successive incumbent to the throne of St. James – is His Beatitude Archbishop Torkom Manoogian, who was elected to the life-tenure position in 1990. His Beatitude returned to Jerusalem after an absence of thirty years, during which he served as Primate of the Western and Eastern Dioceses of the Armenian Church of America (California and New York, respectively). He is a graduate of the Patriarchal Seminary, and was one of its former deans.

Saints James Cathedral

The Cathedral of the Saints James, the seat of the Armenian Patriarchs and the jewel of the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem, lies just beyond its main entry gate. It was built before the Crusader Era, over older edifices, and on the site of the tombs of the first bishop of the Christian church, St. James, known as “the Brother of the Lord,” and St. James the Apostle, the brother of St. John the Evangelist, known as “the Zebedee Brothers.”

Upon entering the Cathedral, one is immediately captivated by the interior, bedecked by centuries-old “ganteghs” (oil lamps), suspended from the soaring vaulted dome, and tallow candles dotting the three altars. The only source of light, the oil lamps, are still lovingly tended by altar boys, who replenish them at regular intervals. The candles, made by the Patriarchate’s own chandler, try vainly to dispel the elemental darkness that pervades the church, imparting a mystical significance to the Armenian Church rites.

To the left of the entrance are three small chapels. The first nearest the entrance contains the tomb of Makarios, the bishop of Jerusalem in the 4th century. The third from the entrance is the shine where the head of St. James the Apostle is entombed. Armenians believe that he was buried here in the 1st century, after his execution by King Herod Agrippa I, about 44 AD.

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 liturgical rites and services of the Armenian Church have long preserved the traditions of early Christianity. As you listen to our pre-Byzantine and pre-Gregorian chants and prayers, we invite you to joinus in our spiritual journey through time and space – as we approach God together in this sanctuary. Therefore, visitors are expected to dress appropriately (shorts, bare shoulders, and/or miniskirts are not allowed) and to conduct themselves with respect and decorum (eating and/or drinking are not permitted inside the Cathedral). The Cathedral is open to visitors during Morning Services, from 6:00 to 7:30, and during Vespers, from 15:00 to 15:30.

At other times, callers are invited to visit the Mardigian Museum through its separate entrance, further south on Armenian Orthodox Patriarchate Road.

P.O. Box 14235, Jerusalem 91141
Telephone: (02) 628-2331 [8 am – 12 Noon and 1 –4 pm]
FAX: (02) 626-4862
E-Mail: (Sylva Natalie Manoogian, Library Project Director)
Visit our official website:

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

The Armenians in Jerusalem

The following is the text of a brochure which I helped to prepare for visitors to the SS. James Armenian Convent. We also translated it into French, Italian, and Spanish. I will post the rest of the brochure in subsequent installments.

The Armenian presence in the Holy Land dates back to the earliest years of Christianity, even before the conversion of the Armenian king, Tiridates III, on or about AD 301, and Armenia’s adoption of Christianity as the state religion, the first nation to do so. There is recorded historical evidence that as early as AD 154, bishops of the Armenian Church, in cooperation with bishops of the Greek Orthodox Churches in Jerusalem and Alexandria (Egypt), were actively engaged in the discovery and confirmation of Holy Places deemed to be related to the activities of Jesus Christ, and the construction of edifices for the preservation of these early Christian treasures.

The church of Jerusalem was chronologically the first Christian in history, and the first bishop of that church was St. James, called “the Brother of Our Lord” in the Gospels. In AD 381, the Ecumenical Council of Constantinople accorded honor to the See of Jerusalem equal to that of Rome and Constantinople, so that the occupants of the See were called “Patriarchs.”

The first formally recorded Armenian Patriarch of Jerusalem was Abraham, who served from AD 638 to 669 and received a charter and official recognition from the Arab Caliph Omar Ibn-Il-Khattab. The charter enumerated the rights and privileges of the Armenian Church in the Holy Land, guaranteeing its integrity and security. On the back wall, facing the main entrance of the St. James Convent, there is an elaborately carved inscription in Arabic which, loosely translated, warns all intruders: “This decree from our Lord Sultan and King Al-Daher Abu Sayid Mohammed, cursed be all those and their future generations, and may Almighty God curse whoever harms or inflicts any injustice to this Holy Place. Abu Kheyer Razan hereby guarantees this to the St. James Armenian Convent in Jerusalem. In the year of Mohammed 854 (AD 1488).” This and previous protective edicts have helped to strengthen and perpetuate the integrity of the Patriarchate and have provided a basis for succeeding conquerors to honor these pledges.

The final and most important pledge was made by the written declaration of the Turkish Sultan, Abdul Majid, in 1852. This declaration officially established the principle of “Statu Quo,” (i.e. existing “as is” condition) in the Holy Places, which defines, regulates and maintains, without change, the proprietary rights in the Holy Places, granted exclusively to the three major Christian rites – Greek, Armenian Orthodox, and Latin (Roman Catholic).

Armenians are the indigenous people of the Armenian highlands, where Mount Ararat, the resting place of Noha’s Ark, according to the book of Genesis, is located. This mountain is as sacred for Armenians as the Western Wall is for the Jewish people and Mecca is for the Muslims.

The Armenian language is most akin to Sanskrit and, together with Greek and Persian, lies at the root of all Indo-European languages.

According to Armenian tradition, a practicing Christian would go on pilgrimage to Jerusalem at least once in his or her lifetime. Despite political and economic turmoil, thousands of Armenians flocked to the Holy Land every year. It is said of past times that the St. James Monastery could accommodate as many as eight thousand pilgrims at a given time. Pilgrimage brought to the Holy City renowned Armenian clergymen, statesment, kings, and princes, all of whom presented gifts and left their mark.

One can still see, carved on the walls of churches, groups of very small Armenian crosses. Local tradition holds that these were inscribed by pilgrims, and the clusters represent the number of people in the family of each pilgrim. In Armenian society, it was a great honor for someone to have gone on pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Such an act secured for the pilgrim a special social status. Thereafter, he or she was referred to as Mahdesi (“One who saw death”) – a reference to the Tomb of Christ.

By the second half of the 7th century, there were more than seventy Armenian monasteries in the Holy Land. The present-day Armenian Quarter in Jerusalem – home to a closely-knit community of Armenian families – occupies the sites of some of these ancient monasteries. Enclosed within the present Quarter are the Monasteries of St. James, Holy Archangels, and Holy Saviour.

Sunday, August 22, 2004

Armenian Jerusalem Days

I just returned from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where I attended the Divine Liturgy service, with Fr. Norayr as the celebrant. This is my 12th day in Jerusalem. I feel very blessed to be here. It is the 16th time I am in the Holy City, where it is said that if you come once, you must come at least 7 times. So I am now on the 2nd visit of the third septet.

My work of directing the revitalization of the Calouste Gulbenkian Library of the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem is proceeding well, with the blessing of His Beatitude Patriarch Torkom II. It has been a challenge, but one which is of great importance, not only for the Monastery of St. James, but for Armenians throughout the world, as well as for those who are interested in the Armenian Church, Armenian history, and Armenian culture.

Being here makes me able to focus, undistracted, on developing my doctoral dissertation proposal. I carry a notebook with me everywhere, and am constantly making notes, delving into source material, and otherwise carrying on my research to another level of depth. These are the building blocks which I hope will offer me the sound foundation for my academic studies.

What pleases me is that, as I explain what I am doing, I am at the same time able to encourage, inspire, and mentor a new generation of library apostles, who will continue the work I have begun. Many of them are right here, in the Seminary and in the Holy Translators School. Back in the States, they are the members of ALLIC (Armenian Librarians and Libraries Information Committee) of the American Library Association.

I am hoping that my enthusiasm will generate not only interest and well wishes, but also support so that we can continue to move this work forward. It is all of our responsibility.

Thursday, August 12, 2004


I arrived in the Old City of Jerusalem, where I am staying for a month, at the Armenian Patriarchate's St. James Monastery. This is my 16th visit here since 1992. The main focus of my coming here has been the renovation and revitalization of the Calouste Gulbenkian Library (one of the most comprehensive Armenological information resource centers in the Diaspora, established 75 years ago). This is a project which has been very challenging, and I hope will form the centerpiece of my doctoral dissertation in information studies at UCLA.

An amazing part of all of this is that my colleagues and classmates at UCLA and elsewhere can keep in touch with me through cyber-communication. Who would have thought this possible before the age of technology?

Setting up this blog is going to give me the opportunity to experience first-hand that which I am going to share with the five teachers from Tajikistan, who will be coming to UCLA for a 3-week training in September. It will be interesting to share my new learnings with them and offer them encouragement in doing the same.

Sunday, August 08, 2004


Clara, Susie and I met on Saturday, August 7, and went over all materials we had, making a preliminary list of assignments for the 3-week training. LAPL International Languages Dept.' s Rolando Pasquinelli e-mailed the various components of Electronic Information Training syllabus, which I forwarded to our Training Team members.

Today, Sunday, in the midst of packing for my trip to Jerusalem (Aug.9-Sep.7), I have also been downloading, saving, printing, and forwarding all of the above.

Saturday, August 07, 2004


Spent three days at the Western Diocesan Library (Aug. 4: Furniture delivery and installation; Aug.5: Follow-up and organization; Aug.5: Furniture rearrangement).

4:30-8:30 - Susie Chang, one of the team members for hosting 5 Tajik teachers at UCLA, came to meet with me at the Library.

12:15a - Clara Chu returned my call and we discussed the content of our meeting in the morning (Aug. 7)

I've been up all night; it's now 5:40a.


Sunday, August 01, 2004

First Post

This is an experiment. Ihave not created my own blog before, but it may prove interesting and perhaps useful.