The Armenian Bird Mosaic

As happens regularly in the Holy Land, construction works uncover antiquities.
When in 1894 constructions were made for a home near Damascus Gate, just outside of the Old City, a large mosaic flour was uncovered, about a meter underground.
The find was described in the Quarterly Statement of the Palestine Exploration Fund “the Discovery of a Beautiful Mosaic Pavement with Armenian Inscription”.
Already then Dr. Bliss of the Palestine Exploration Fund recognized the similarity of the mosaic with the Armenian mosaics on Mount of Olives, which can still be seen now within the Russian Orthodox Convent of the Ascension, remnants of which were part of the Armenian church of St. John the Baptist.


The mosaic floor that lies near Damascus Gate and the Musrara quarter, has been named the “Bird Mosaic”. Soon after the discovery a room has been built on top of it, to guard the mosaic from the elements of nature. The plot is property of the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem.
There are several written accounts, as early as the sixth century, testifying of many Armenian churches and convents in the Holy Land, some of which were uncovered in recent years.
The Bird Mosaic near Damascus Gate is one of the most beautiful mosaics in the Holy Land, witness of a thriving Armenian community in the country from as early as the midClaudiaVenhorst_bridmosaic-2-17-fourth century.
The mosaic is dated to the sixth century, based on the style and the iconography.
The size of the floor is about 4 x 6 meter, bordered with decorative plaits.

The design is an amphora, out of which vines sprout into medallions. The mosaic has vine leaves, curly vine tendrils and white and blue grape bunches.ClaudiaVenhorst_bridmosaic-2-23
In each medallion a bird is depicted; most birds are facing towards the middle, on the left and right side each are eight double rows. The design draws the attention to the middle row, which is a bit different.ClaudiaVenhorst_bridmosaic-2-11


Above the border of the mosaic is an inscription in Armenian: “For the Memory and Redemption of all the Armenians whose names God knows”. Above the inscription is another amphora, bordered by two small birds.


ClaudiaVenhorst_bridmosaic-2-22The depictions in the mosaic may symbolize life after death, but more research has to be done.ClaudiaVenhorst_bridmosaic-2-18

Pictures: Dr. Claudia Venhorst.

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