The Old City of Jerusalem is less than one square kilometer. Inside its city wall are four quarters: the Moslem Quarter, the Jewish, the Christian, and the Armenian.
Today on our That's MyWorld Tuesday tour we visit the Armenians.
I love the rhythm of the call to prayer. It gets faster and faster, louder and louder! See the blur of the mallet and hand?
The device, called simandron or in Arabic nakos, is made of wooden boards and iron sheets suspended on chains.
A 14th century Ottoman edict forbade the ringing of church bells in Jerusalem. But there is always a way around laws in the Middle East. So these gong-like instruments replaced the bells to call the monks and the public to prayer.
Ottoman rule ended in 1917 and today Israel has freedom of religious expression.
Many church bells ring in the Old City. But in memory of those centuries of Moslem prohibition of the bells, an Armenian monk emerges from the church every day and hammers on the simandron just before 3:00 pm vespers.
Aviva Bar-Am, in her Beyond the Walls: Churches of Jerusalem, hits the nail on the head (so to speak) with her description:
"A vast collection of paintings, ceramic tiles, and rich ornaments decorate the grandiose interior of St. James Cathedral. Lit only from light which enters through a few windows, the dome, some candles, and dozens of hanging oil-lamps, the church's interior is mystic and eastern. The scent of incense permeates the air, adding to its mysterious aura."
And that is before you even hear the choir of men's voices in Byzantine chant!
Whenever I have been at vespers on a weekday, only a handful of tourists or locals come in to sit on the bench that lines the side and back of the church. And most do not last for the entire liturgy.
Woe to you if you forget the rules and cross your legs. An Armenian will come over and remind you to keep both feet on the ground.
But if you do sit respectfully and quietly, you may find yourself soaring .