JERUSALEM-the 50 sites you may overlook

In a historic and religious city like Jerusalem there is so much to see no matter how much you tour. When time is a limiting factor, even the most efficient tour guides have to compromise while deciding what to incorporate in the itinerary. Although it depends on the interest of the individual visitor as well, there is still a huge must-see-list in Jerusalem that cannot be avoided. At every stop so much information is thrown on a visitor that sometimes s/he tends to forget the details after leaving the place.

I remember when I first visited the Church of Holy Sepulcher, it appeared to me more like a small museum than a church. I was virtually clueless inside a dark and dull overcrowded massive complex of more than 25 chapels with several curious artifacts and antiques scattered under some dusky arches and dingy columns. It took me at least three visits with a proper map in hand to understand the Church complex. A normal visitor for instance would be satisfied with Golgotha, the ‘Stone of Unction’ and the ‘Holy Sepulcher’, but the oldest part of the complex, viz. the first century tombs inside the Syrian Orthodox Chapel could be easily missed.

In the upcoming posts I plan to upload 50 such sites from Jerusalem that I believe can be easily overlooked or go unnoticed by an average visitor. I am incorporating the following sites from my previous visits, again with no specific order of importance. I am sure that a serious traveler who loves history, traditions and the Bible has noticed or been to most of them.

Monday, July 14, 2014

45) The Holy Prisons of Jesus Christ.

Based on traditions of different Christian sects, there are at least 5 sites in Jerusalem believed to be 'the Prison of Christ' where He was held before trial! Greek Orthodox (2); Armenian Orthodox (2) and Roman Catholics (1). Details soon....

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

44) The three hidden pearls of Armenian Orthodox Church in Jerusalem that are extremely difficult to access for tourists. 1-Chapel of St. Vartan (Church of Holy Sepulcher); 2- Burial places of 'St. James the Great' & 'St. James the Less' (St. James Cathedral); 3- House of Caiaphas or Armenian Church of St. Saviour (Mount Zion).

1) Chapel of St. Vartan (Church of Holy Sepulcher)
Inside this iron door lies a quarry from the First Temple Period (8th-7th Century BC). The Chapel of Vartan is part of this ancient quarry and has remains from Hadrian's Temple of Aphrodite/Venus (2nd Century AD) and Constantine's Church of Holy Sepulcher (4th Century AD) in the form of their original walls (if you remember, Hadrian Caesar built the Temple of Aphrodite over Christ's empty tomb and Emperor Constantine replaced it with the Church of Holy Sepulcher).

However, the most important relic in the chapel is an inscription and a drawing of a merchant boat on a stone (25 x 12 inches) by a Christian pilgrim made either before Constantine built the Church (ca. 330 AD) or when it was under construction. Excavated in 1971, this stone carving is perhaps the earliest known Christian art discovered from the Holy Land (some even propose a 2nd century AD date to the drawing). The inscription in Latin is generally read as ' DOMINE IVIMUS' or 'Lord, we will go', believed to be a version of Psalms 122:1. An alternate version is 'DD M NOMINUS' or 'the gift of Marcus Nominus'. I couldn't access the Chapel and hence photos are only from the closed entrance. You can read this interesting link and learn how difficult it is to access the chapel.

The closed ornate wrought iron door to the 'Chapel of Vartan'. The 'Chapel of Vartan' is located on the north side near the altar of the 'Chapel of St. Helena' (Greek) or 'Chapel of St. Gregory' (Armenian)- part of the Church of Holy Sepulcher complex.

2) Burial Sites of 'St. James the Great' & 'St. James the Less' (St. James Cathedral)
If Armenian traditions are to be accepted, the Cathedral of St. James in Jerusalem has the privilege of possessing the relics of two apostles of Jesus: St. James the Greater and St. James the Lesser. St. James the Greater, the brother of St. John and son Zebedee was the first apostle of Jesus to be martyred. He was beheaded by King Herod Agrippa I in 44 AD, the only disciple whose martyrdom is recorded in the Bible (Acts 12:2). According to Armenian tradition, the head of St. James the Greater is buried in the altar of  'the Chapel of James' inside the cathedral. Interestingly, rest of his body is believed to be buried in Santiago de Compostela, Spain.

St. James the Less on the other hand is identified as either the apostle James, the son of Alphaeus (Mark 15:40) or the 'brother of the Lord, (Acts 9:27; Gal 1:19), the first bishop of Jerusalem. He is also known as 'St. James the Just'.

Although the present Cathedral is from 12th-13th century, it was built over an earlier 6th century Byzantine Church. Despite being one of the most beautiful cathedrals in Jerusalem, St. James is not generally  open to tourists outside the Armenian community.  You can visit the cathedral only when the prayers are held and during the service it is advised to behave more like a worshiper than a tourist. Photography is also not promoted and many of the interesting sites are not accessible. Most of the photographs below were taken immediately after the service finished and before the cathedral was closed to public. I had to really rush and click these photos before the cathedral was closed after the prayers.

Interior of St. James Cathedral, Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem. Both the burial places are located inside the St. James Cathedral.

The yellow arrow marks the entrance to the Chapel of 'St. James the Great'. The chapel is one among the four to the left of the main entrance to the cathedral [the other three are, 1) Chapel of St. Macarius, 2) Chapel of St. Stephen and 3) Chapel of St. Menas].

Inside the Chapel of 'St. James the Great'. The red marble in front of the altar marks the place where his head is buried according to Armenian traditions.


Main altar of St. James cathedral. 1) The throne dedicated to 'St. James the Less'; 2) The throne/seat of the Armenian Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem; 3) In front of the throne of 'St. James the Less' is an iron grille that marks the saint’s reputed burial place (not visible in this photo).

 3) House of Caiaphas or Armenian Church/Convent of St. Saviour (Mount Zion)
According to Armenian traditions here was the house of the High Priest Caiaphas (18-36 AD) where Jesus  Christ was arrested and delivered to trial (John 18:24). Although there are no evidence to prove that the site was indeed the house of Caiaphas, archaeological excavations conducted in 1971 have recovered artifacts from the time of Jesus from the area. The present Armenian convent is only from the 14th century, however a Byzantine Christian (6th Century) church had existed on the same site. Today, if you can access the site, you can look for the grand tombs of Armenian Patriarchs and some very beautiful Armenian blue mosaics from the early 20th century. I had these photographs taken while walking the Ramparts walk through Jerusalem Walls near the Zion Gate section. Here is an interesting link with some nice photographs of the beautiful blue mosaics from the church.


 The grand tombs of Armenian Patriarchs.

 Part of an Armenian blue mosaic.