Saints James Cathedral
In order to visit the Sts. James Cathedral, you have to enter the main gate of the Armenian Quarter. Immediately after you pass the big iron gate, you turn left, and enter the courtyard to the Cathedral.The walls of the courtyard are decorated with typical Armenian “Khatchkars” (carved stone crosses), the oldst of which dates from the 12th century. In 2013 two new khatchkars have been added to the coutryard, hewn out of natural red and black stone.
Behind the tracery, where the inner courtyard or narthex begins, are three paintings. The painting above the main entrance represents the Last Judgement; on the left the Apostle St. James the Greater, brother of St. John the Evangelist, and St. James the Less, the brother of Jesus and the first bishop of the Christian community in Jerusalem; and the family of St. Gregory the Illuminator and the family of Catholicos Gregory III Pahlavuni. Also an image of Christ and the Apostles St. Thaddeus and St. Bartholomew can be seen. These Apostles of Christ are the patron Saints of the Armenian Apostolic Church, as they first preached the Gospel in Armenia.
On the left and on the right side of the main entrance are altars in the wall; on the left side in honour of St. George, and on the right side St. Nikolas. When Saladin took hold of Jerusalem, and also when the OttomanTurks took over, the complete Church was closed for some years and only these two altars, because they were outside, could be used for prayers and services.
n the right side of the entrance you can see a wooden gong, on which deacons strike a beater to mark the start of the service in Church.
When you enter the cathedral, you can sense the beauty and sanctity of the church. The cathedral is 350 square meters and the dome is 18 meters high. Typical of Armenian architecture are the four square columns. Ahead of you lies the magnificent altar; the center forms the Blessed Virgin with the infant Jesus Christ in her arms. On the left side of that painting is St. James the Less, and on the right side St. John the Baptist, holding the head of St. James the Great near his heart. The main altar is carved out of precious wood and completely covered and inlaid with gilded filigree, made on assignment of Gregory the Chainbearer . In two higher niches in the altar are images of St. Peter and St. Paul; above the altars you can see balconies- which can be reached by stairs, open on special days only.
On the left side of the main altar is the altar of the Blessed Virgin, and on the right side of John the Baptist.
In front of the raised main altar are two thrones. One is the throne on which the Armenian Patriarch of Jerusalem usually sits during Mass. The other throne, with a dome on top of it, is the Throne of St. James the Less, carved out of precious wood and completely inlaid with mother of pearl. Below the throne was the original grave of St. James, now under the main altar. This throne is used only on two occasions: the enthronement of the Patriarch (which was on June 4, 2013) and the feast of St. James the Less (on January 5).
The church is decorated with blue and white tiles, made by Armenian artists in the 18th century, decorated with Armenian writings and Biblical figures. More than 130 paintings adorn the church, showing scenes from the Old Testament, New Testament, and the history of the Armenian Apostolic Church. It is known that behind the pictures, covering the walls, were old frescoes; some of them are still visible, for example on the northern wall, depicting our Lord with the Apostles James and John, the sons of Zebedee.
In the western part of the church, when you enter St. James on your left side, is the Chapel of St. Macarius, who held the Holy Cross found by the mother of Emperor Constantine the Great, St. Helena.
A bit further is the Chapel of St. Minas, were two altars are erected in memory of the martyrs St. Minas of Alexandria, and St. Sarkis. The chapel also houses many staffs of bishops and archimandrites of Jerusalem. On the feast days of the two abovementioned saints the chapel is opened.
A bit more forward is the Burial Vault of the Apostle St. James the Greater. The entrance is richly decorated, and has a dome above its entrance. Under the altar the spot is marked, where the Blessed Virgin buried the head of the Apostle James. Six oil lamps are always burning, and on Saturdays Holy Liturgy is held here.
The next door leads to St. Stephen’s Chapel, which serves as Sacristy. The book of Acts tells us how St. Stephen, the first deacon, was stoned to death, after being condemned by the Sanhedrin. We read about St. Stephen in Acts 6 and 7. Above the entrance to the chapel is a beautiful balcony, from which the lives of Saints or description of the feasts is read.
In the chapel are three altars, the first is to St. Cyril of Jerusalem who baptized converts there on the day the Holy Cross was found; next to this is the marble font that St. Cyril used during baptism. The larger altar is dedicated to St. Stephen, with a monstrance containing the Holy Communion placed on it.
The third altar in the chapel is dedicated to St. Gregory the Illuminator. On the walls hangs a chain with a cross, belonging to Grigor the Chainbearer, Patriarch of Jerusalem from 1715-1749, who wore this heavy chain on his body, of which he swore only to remove it when all the debts of the monastery had been paid for- which he accomplished during his lifetime.
On the right side when you enter St. James Cathedral, is the Chapel of Etchmiadzin. Until the 17th century, this part was a portico, an open space, until it was made into a church in 1663 by Patriarch Eghiazar of Aintep. He placed a throne there and proclaimed himself as Catholicos of all Armenians under the Ottoman Empire. In 1666 he even blessed the Holy Oil in the Chapel. The doors to the Chapel of Etchmiadzin probably were the main entrance to St. James in the 16th century. The cross and the altar are from the 18th century. On the southern part of the Chapel is a smaller altar, the Holy Sinai Altar, containing three stones, one from Mt. Sinai, one from Mt. Tabor and one from the Jordan River, especially for Pilgrims who are not able to travel to these holy places. In the center of the altar the baptism of King Trdat III by Gregory the Illuminator is represented.
The tiles on the walls date from the 18th century, made by Armenian artists from Kütahya, and especially the smaller tiles are noteworthy for their delicate artwork of scenes of the life of Christ and of saints.
The upper floor of the church houses two altars, one to Christ and one to the Last Supper; the entrance to this part is usually closed. From the upper floor one can go to the Chapel of Nshan, or Chapel of the Holy Sign, where previously a part of the Holy Cross was. From the church the gilded balcony of the Chapel can be seen. The Chapel of Nshan leads to the open courtyard, and the Chapel of the Holy Apostles and the Chapel of Ascension.
Every day at 6.30 a.m. are Morning Prayers and at 3.00 pm Vespers.
Divine Liturgy is Saturdays at 8.00 a.m. and Sundays at 8.30 am
Call for information 02- 6282331