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St. James Cathedral

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Built in the 12th century, St. James Cathedral is the central point of life in the Armenian Quarter. The church shows layer upon layer of architectural styles attesting to the centuries through which it has stood. It is noted for its 8,000 tiles and the hundreds of oil lamps suspended from the ceiling. These centuries-old lamps and a skylight on the vaulted dome ceiling are the only source of light in the church, which has no electricity.

St. James Church is named for the brother of Jesus, who was the first bishop of the Jerusalem church and for James the Apostle. According to Armenian tradition, the church has been built on the site of the tombs of James, the Apostle, and James the brother of Jesus. One of three small chapels inside the church is believed to entomb the head of James the Apostle. Armenians believe that he was buried here in the first century after his execution. The wooden doors that lead into this shrine are inlaid with mother-of-peal and tortoise shell.

The church is architecturally intriguing. The walls are covered with blue and white tiles about two meters high made by Armenians from Kutahya in the l7th century. Massive paintings of biblical and apostolic figures top the tiles and stretch high along the walls. Gilded altars span the front of the sanctuary. The exterior of the church is decorated with colorful Armenian tiles, wrought iron gates and paintings of icons. The courtyard of Jerusalem stone also contains the graves of Armenian patriarchs. One can also see crosses dating from different periods etched into the stone walls.

The church is open only during daily services at 3 p.m. A leather curtain serves as the door while services are in progress. The mass is conducted in Armenian and a choir of priests leads the emotive chants.

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