The Armenian Orthodox Patriarchate
The Armenian Orthodox Patriarchate (Convent) of St. James is the home
of the Brotherhood of the St. Jameses, a monastic order of the Armenian Church
with about 60 members worldwide. Within the compound of the Patriarchate,
also lie the private residences of 2,000-3,000 Armenian families and hence
public access to the grounds of the Patriarchate are restricted to the Cathedral
itself. This residential enclave was, at one time, the largest single compound
that housed Armenian pilgrims, and represented the demographic and spiritual
core of the newly established colony. Today, together with its adjoining
outcrop, the Armenian Quarter, which skirts the northern edge of the Convent,
it represents one-sixth of the territory of the Old City. Another 2,000 Armenians
are scattered in various other parts of the Holy Land, mainly in Bethlehem,
Jaffa, Haifa, Ramleh and Ramallah, where viable communities have evolved
around the periphery of their ubiquitous nucleus, a church or convent.
The compound of the Patriarchate, which enjoys a strict curfew of 10 p.m. when the massive doors are closed and locked until the early morning, also houses the administrative offices and residences of the Patriarch and the clergy. It also comprises the Cathedral of St. James, the Church of the Archangels, the second major Armenian church in Jerusalem, and the church of St. Toros, which is home to the precious illuminated Armenian manuscript collection, the second largest in the world (over 4,000).
The Convent itself occupies the southwestern corner of the Old City and is situated on the site of the encampment of the Tenth Legion of Rome. As you tread the cobblestone alleys of the entryway of the Convent, you are taken back more than a thousand years into the distant, idyllic past of the community's forefathers who laid the foundation stones of the Convent's present existence for all generations to come.
At its peak, the Armenian presence in Jerusalem, where they were most densely concentrated, numbered 25,000. But the havoc caused by half a century of bloodshed and the perennial political and economic instability in the region have decimated the colony. Most of its former members now reside in more placid capitals of the world.
This fact notwithstanding, Armenians have continued to be a dynamic presence in Jerusalem and are in a unique situation. Their Patriarchate enjoys a semi-diplomatic status and is one of the three major guardians of the Christian Holy Places in the Holy Land (the other two are the Greek Orthodox and Latin Patriarchates). Among these sites are the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in the Old City, the Church of the Ascension on the Mount of Olives, the Tomb of Virgin Mary in the Valley of Gethsemane, and the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.
The Patriarchate exercises a paternalistic care of the members of its community and provides a medical service for a symbolic fee at a clinic donated by the Jinishian Medical Fund. Free meals to the aged and invalid pensioners and indigent members of the community are also provided.
Other branches of the Patriarchate located within the compound include The Calouste Gulbenkian Library of over 100,000 volumes, half in Armenian and the rest in English and half a dozen European languages; the Edward and Helen Mardigian Museum of Armenian Art and Culture housing historical and religious artifacts including precious rugs, Armenian coins and scraps of evidence of the presence at the site of the Tenth Legion of Rome; and the St. Tarkmanchatz School, a leading co-educational private school and the only one that teaches Arabic, Armenian, English, French and Hebrew. Rounding out this vast accumulation of treasures of all kinds is the complex of the Theological Seminary of the Patriarchate, located a hundred yards from the entrance of the compound, a gift of the late Armenian-American philanthropists Alex and Marie Manoogian. Armenian youths from all over the world, including the United States and Armenia, come to study for the priesthood here, and after ordination, help infuse new blood into the ranks of Armenian clergy worldwide.
Not to be overlooked is the Patriarchate's printing press, the first to be established in Jerusalem, which has now become a modern, state-of-the-art facility capable of undertaking commercial color printing. This was the first facility within the Armenian compound to adopt the concept of computerization on a dedicated scale.
The present Patriarch, His Beatitude Archbishop Torkom Manoogian, was elected to the Throne of St. James in 1990 and is the 96th successive Armenian Patriarch of Jerusalem. He, along with a Synod of seven clergymen elected by the Brotherhood, oversees the Patriarchate's operations.