A Pilgrim's Notebook - Chapter 2

Pilgrim notes #2 - The Old City: the Armenian Quarter
Sunday: 03/05/2000

"Remember the Sabbath Day and keep it holy." Exodus 20:8

Other than attending the optional early liturgies of other Christian faiths in Jerusalem, and/or Eucharist at St. George's Cathedral, our school day did not begin till 2:00 p.m.. After a lecture on exploring the four quarters of the Old City we were broken into 4 groups and turned loose with a list of serious tasks. Our group was assigned the Armenian Quarter, the smallest and farthest away, being in the Southwest corner of the walled city. Everyone in the small group was very enthusiastic about drawing this assignment.

Entering the Armenian Cloister

Entering the Armenian Cloister

Armenia is special and the Armenian Quarter is also special, partly for related reasons. The church of Jerusalem (Armenian) was the first Christian church, and their first Bishop was St. James, the brother of Jesus. Armenia became the first Christian country in the world, with the conversion of their king in 301 A.D.. Modern Armenian history is marked by a holocaust in 1915 following Turkish attempts to convert or expel the Christian population, a holocaust almost unrecognized by western people.

To the north of the Armenian quarter lies the Christian Quarter where the streets are lined wall-to-wall with vendors of every kind. Upon entering the Armenian Quarter from the Christian Quarter one is confronted with a very dramatic change. The quarter is virtually devoid of shops. Almost the entire quarter is occupied by St. James Cathedral and monastery within a single compound. As we arrived, we were informed by the un-uniformed watchman that the church and area was closed and that we should come back the next afternoon. That man was David Kaplanian, an American schooled lay deacon in the Armenian church. As we talked to David, pumping him for information for our quest, and he learned that we were fellow Christians and Armenian sympathizers, we found virtually everything opened to us. A few of us were invited into the Cathedral itself, where the body of St. James, the brother of Jesus, is said to be buried under the high altar, and the head of St. James, the apostle, is said to be buried under the third shrine on the north side of the nave. But the warm relationship developing between members of the group and David was the most remarkable encounter in the Armenian Quarter. Domenic Ciannella (Sr.) struck up other friendships, in particular with a Deacon named Ara, student for the priesthood. This is where I saw Domenic bestow his second blessing of the afternoon to the delight of the young cleric. During the afternoon, Domenic bestowed no fewer than three blessings on the people we met and left vast quantities of other forms of goodwill in his wake. We wasted a little time exploring the extent of the cloister, almost devoid of activity, now the home of some 500 to 1000 residents (David wasn't really sure) where in 1948, some 5000 people lived within the cloister, many in tents in the large open areas, many refugees from Armenia.

If you are motivated to do so, please visit the Armenian Patriarch's official web site at http://www.armenian-patriarchate.org/

Still needing to find a 10 shekel "item" to commemorate our trip to the Old City, we headed for the far reaches of the Quarter, past the monastery that occupies nearly the rest of the Armenian territory in the Old City, for perhaps the only two gift shops right across from Zion Gate.

Steve Muncie goes native

Yes, we found a piece of Armenian ceramic for the designated 10 shekels ($2.50), but here too we developed a warm and friendly relationship with George Gejekousihian and the rest of his family that runs the shop.

Steve Muncie goes native in George's gift shop

And, we have to go back, since George's opera coach, also a lay deacon in the church, has two CDs out, one of Armenian Christmas music, and another of liturgical chants, and Steve and I just have to have copies, but George was temporarily out of stock except for his personal copies.

How does this relate to pilgrimage in the Holy Land? I'm not really sure, but the afternoon was important. I'm still synthesizing it.

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