St. James Cathedral

Located in the Armenian Quarter of the Old City, the church commemorates the name of two Christian saints who died for their faith.

June 4, 2009 12:25
1 minute read.
St. James Cathedral

st. james cathedral 248.88. (photo credit: Debbie Zimelman)


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Located in the Armenian Quarter of the Old City, the Crusader-era St. James Cathedral commemorates the name of two Christian saints who died for their faith. One was the brother of Jesus and first bishop of Jerusalem; the other was the apostle James the Greater (the brother of the apostle John), who was killed by Herod Antipas. James the Greater's head was severed and buried in the church, while his body was interred in Spain, where he frequently preached. The differences between the two saints were blurred and, over time, were merged in various traditions. Incorporated into the facade of the Armenian church are engraved stone tablets with Armenian inscriptions, which had been donated by visiting pilgrims. Outside there are also wooden boards and iron sheets held by chains. Called nakos or simandron, they were used instead of bells when the Ottoman rulers forbade the ringing of church bells. The nakos were struck by special staves to call the community to prayer. The archway of the church entrance is pointed. It not only reflects the pointed headwear of the Armenian clergy but is also meant to remind one of Mount Ararat. The church, which retains its basilican plan from the Crusader era, has a large central dome as a roof. Near the eastern wall above the altar stands the 17th-century throne dedicated to James, the brother of Jesus. Next to it is a less ornate throne on which the Armenian patriarch sits during church services. Toward the exit of the church, on the northern wall, is a finely crafted wooden door adorned with mother of pearl and tortoise shell. The door leads to the St. James Chapel, the most sacred part of the church, where the head of St. James is said to be buried. Text adapted from the Yad Ben-Zvi walking-tour guidebook Jerusalem: A walk through time.

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