|Though numbering only a few million in total worldwide, the Armenians have their own quarter within the Old City. Theirs was the first nation to officially embrace Christianity when their King converted in 303 A.D. and they established themselves in Jerusalem sometime in the following century.|
The community of about 1500 is still very insular and its boundaries are not clearly defined. It stretches from the Jaffa Gate to the Zion Gate, having its own schools, library, seminary and residential quarters discreetly tucked away behind high walls. The gates to this city within a city are closed early each evening and there’s little to see for the casual visitor, but if you can make it during the limited hours that its doors are open, the House of Ananias the father-in-law of Caiphas and St. James Cathedral are two major shrines worth visiting.
Inside the Cathedral the air is loaded with incense, with golden lamps hanging from the ceiling and the floors are covered in dark, rich patterned carpets that exude an aura of ritual and mystery. It was the Georgians in the 11th Century who first constructed a church here in honour of St. James, as the site where he was beheaded and became the first martyred apostle. The Armenians in favour with the ruling Crusaders, took possession of the church in the 12th Century and the two parties shared restoration duties. The tiles date from a much later century and were imported from Turkey.
The core of the quarter is one big monastic compound. At one time the Armenian presence in Jerusalem was traditionally purely religious, but a large secular element arrived in the 20th Century following the Turkish persecution that escalated in 1915 in an attempted genocide in which 1.5 million Armenians were killed.
from Agatha Cumberbatch