Monday, January 05, 2009

(More) Armenian Jerusalem.

Following up on yesterday's post featuring photos from the Armenian Cathedral of St. James in Jerusalem, here are some photos I took last June documenting the Armenian presence at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem is one of six church entities that share responsibility for Christendom's holiest site; the other parties are the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem, the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem (represented within the Holy Sepulchre by the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land), the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria, the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, and the Syrian Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch. Relations among the aforementioned bodies are not always harmonious, with conflicts over jurisdictional rights within the Church of the Holy Sepulchre sometimes leading to physical altercations. If you want to know what makes the Holy Sepulchre such a special place, you may want to reflect on what Jerome Murphy-O'Connor writes about the church in his popular archaeological guidebook to the Holy Land. "The frailty of humanity is nowhere more apparent than here," Murphy-O'Connor writes, for the Holy Sepulchre "epitomizes the human condition. The empty who come here to be filled will leave desolate; those who permit the church to question them may begin to understand why hundreds of thousands thought it worthwhile to risk death or slavery in order to pray here."

Jerusalem's Armenian community has left its own distinctive stamp on the Holy Sepulchre. The first three photos in this set illustrate the entrance to the Armenian Chapel of St. John the Evangelist, bearing the distinctive cross of the Armenian Church (second photo) and some attractive metalwork (first and third photos). The three photos in the middle of the set show the members of the Monastic Brotherhood of St. James (fourth and fifth photos) and the students of the Patriarchal Seminary (sixth photo) leaving the Holy Sepulchre after completing one of several weekly processions they undertake within the church. The seminarians form the choir for services at the Cathedral of St. James; I had the privilege of hearing them sing at vespers, and you can also hear them on a commercial recording they made a few years ago of music from the Armenian liturgy for the Feast of the Nativity and Theophany of Christ. The seventh and eighth photos in the set show two Armenian shrines within the Holy Sepulchre - the Chapel of the Standing of the Holy Virgin (seventh photo), on what one tradition holds to the place Mary stood during the crucifixion, and the subterranean Church of St. Gregory the Illuminator (eighth photo), commemorating the great apostle of Armenia. The ninth photo of the set may be my favorite, as it represents the kinds of sights one may encounter while poking around the dark nooks and cranies of the Holy Sepulchre. The painting hung on the stone wall presumably depicts a great Armenian hierarch; if you look closely, you'll see that the wall itself is covered with many small crosses carved by pilgrims. It's hard for me to look at these photos without wanting to return to Jerusalem; I hope to make it back to the Holy Sepulchre someday, and I hope that readers who have the desire to make a similar pilgrimage will be able to do so themselves. AMDG.


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