The pointed headdress worn by the monks remind us of the shape of Mt. Ararat, which is in ancient Armenia. The Armenian community prospered under Christian rule in Jerusalem.
The Armenian Quarter compound takes up one-sixth of the area of the Old City, and is surrounded by a wall that is locked at night. Many refugees came here in the wake of the Armenian genocide during World War I, and since then the monastery has served as a residential quarter.
The Cathedral is named for St. James, and buried here are James the “brother of Jesus,” the first bishop of Jerusalem and the head of James the Apostle (whose body is buried in Spain). In the courtyard we see stone crosses – khatchkar in Armenian – that were given to the church by Armenian pilgrims, and decorated dedication plaques. In the front of the church are hanging wooden panels that are used to call the faithful to prayer.
The art of Armenian ceramic tiles came to Jerusalem with the artists who had been brought by the British to renovate buildings on the Temple Mount. Their families settled in Jerusalem and they cultivated unique motifs and special techniques. Visits to the Armenian Quarter are restricted. You may visit the church courtyard, but the church itself can be visited only during prayer times (daily at 15:00).