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According to tradition, the Church of the Holy Archangels also has a connection to Jesus’ Passion. It was built on the site of the house of Annas, the father-in-law of Caiaphas. It is believed that Jesus was brought to this house from Gethsemane and bound to an olive tree in the courtyard. An olive tree still stands in the courtyard, allegedly an offshoot of the one to which Jesus was bound.

“Many people say the fruit of this tree can perform miracles,” Hintlian said, offering a sprig from the tree.

The Armenian Quarter is a treasure house of living history. It is a thriving community of about 2,000 people, with their own churches, schools, library, recreation centers, shops and health clinic.

“We live in the Armenian Quarter, but we are very much a part of the city,” Hintlian said. “We are conscious of our history and of the history of Jerusalem.”

“The first printing press in Jerusalem was in the Armenian Quarter in 1833,” Hintlian continued. “And the first photographic workshop here was founded in the Armenian Quarter in 1855.”

The community’s Gulbekian Public Library is an impressive building that boasts more than 80,000 books with an extensive collection of periodicals dating to 1795. The nearby Library of Manuscripts contains a rich collection of original Armenian documents detailing Armenian and world history.

The towering Cathedral of St. James is the heart of this community. Twenty priests, members of the Brotherhood of St. James, are entrusted with maintaining the cathedral –considered one of the five principal sites of pilgrimage in Jerusalem. The cathedral lies deep in the Armenian Quarter, enclosed by massive black-iron gates that open onto a quiet, cobblestone courtyard. Its mammoth doors are adorned with mother-of-pearl, tortoise shell and ivory. Inside the vaulted, cavernous church lies the tomb of St. James the Lesser, the “brother of the Lord,” who was also the first bishop of Jerusalem. The head of another James, the brother of John, is also enshrined in the cathedral.

The central part of the cathedral dates to the 12th century. Antique chandeliers light the interior, with the help of 350 silver lamps imported from Armenian towns. Eight thousand blue, white and yellow tiles, also imported from Armenia, panel the cathedral’s massive pillars. The floors are covered with exquisite carpets from Turkey and Armenia.

“The last time this church was expanded was in the middle of the 12th century,” Hintlian said. “And the decorations were redone in the early 17th century. Behind all the canvases, there are 14th century frescoes,” he added.

The cathedral’s artwork, especially the ornate gilded crosses, reflect the Armenian Church’s dogma, Hintlian observed. “It is not associated with the death and torture of Christ, but with the joy of his resurrection.”

“Generally, the crosses do not portray Christ on the cross.” The Armenian Apostolic Church does not dwell on the theme of Jesus’ passion and death.

“We believe that he was both human and divine,” Hintlian said. “Even when Jesus was acting as a human being, the divine nature was present.”

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Tags: Jerusalem Christianity Cultural Identity Armenian Apostolic Church