Monday, July 6, 2009

Armenian Orthodox

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.

St. James Cathedral is Armenian Orthodox.
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 .


Erin said...

fascinating ... just fascinating. enjoyed the photos and the great background information.
always enjoy visiting your blog.

JoAnn's-D-Eyes said...

Hi Dina, Happy wishes for you in Jerusalem, from JoAnn in Holland,

My world is fun,
Greetings from JoAnn

SandyCarlson said...

That's an interesting story about the "bell." I would love to hear that sound.

Thanks also for the history lesson. You are a great teacher.

That Cathedral shot was beautiful, too.

Dina said...

Thanks Erin, I'm glad.

JoAnn, shalom to you in Holland. Your post is clever and fun, yes.

Sandy, thank you. Good idea. Next time I'll try to record some of the nakos sound for you.

CathM said...

Sounds like an incredible experience (being inside the cathedral)!

Canarybird said...

Dina you always have the most interesting posts! Thanks for this one.

Reader Wil said...

Again a great and interesting post, Dina! I feel that I learn each day more about Jerusalem. Thanks for sharing.

jeannette stgermain said...

I love the photo you took of the St.James cathedral - beautiful.
Was it you who gave me a comment on my last post about flowers on high altitudes? It disappeared in the process of comment moderation, so I'm asking around who the author is... Have a great week!

Marja said...

What an interesting history about the bell and the cathedral looks impressive

Leslie: said...

Very interesting, Dina. Thanks for sharing! :D

Yogi♪♪♪ said...

Wow, great lesson and so many new things I've learned especially how the ban on clanging bells was bypassed.

Hilda said...

This is absolutely fascinating, Dina! I would love to hear the simandron's call to prayers and the Byzantine chants. The cathedral is gorgeous too, and the tiles and wrought iron window and gate.

Paul said...

thanks for the cool pics and the neat history lesson as well

Greensboro Daily Photo said...

That means that Old Jerusalem is 1/2 Christian. I had no idea that such an Armenian presence is found there. Your posts are always so educational!


mire said...

beautiful Dina,
Another beautiful knowledgeable spiritual post.

That must be a beautiful meditation in St. James Cathedral. I enjoy visiting our cathedral it is like you say entering another mystical world.

I am learning-the strong sense of history in the middle east- once again-"in memory of those centuries of Moslem prohibition of the bells an Armenian monk --hammers on the simandron--nudging the past human heart into the present giving all the more expansion to the human heart. Yes now I get it.

have a beautiful day filled with love and light.

Robin said...

I never knew that about the board, how fascinating.

Arija said...

Beautiful post Dina. Lovely evocative photos and description. Sometimes being in a particular place can give one a wonderful mystical experience.

Anonymous said...

It is a new story to me. I had not heard it before. The sound must be different.

I left you the following response on my blog where you left a comment on trying out the ground level photography. Come to think of it, this series you photographed for this post would have been a perfect place to begin.

Response to Dina...

It is not that difficult. If you can bend over and keep both feet flat on the floor, just put your camera between your ankles and listen for the focus beep (if your camera does that) or listen for a sound your camera makes when it has finished focusing, and then press the shutter. Flip up the camera and see what you got. You can learn how to do it is five seconds. Or less.

Adelino Marques said...

Excelent blog

Sara said...

You have given me something special and new to see and do if/when I ever am blessed to return to Jerusalem!

I so appreciate your blog and the many diverse and wonderful aspects of Israel that you share with the rest of us. Thank you.

JM said...

The last shot is fantastic! I've never seen so many hanging oil-lamps in just one place. And they all look beautiful!

Anonymous said...

You can't cross your legs? I thought that was the ultimate act of modesty (at least to my southern mother).... I've been through Greek Orthodox services. The chanting becomes hypnotic.

Kay said...

That last photo reminded me of the mosques we saw in Turkey.

Kay said...

Holey Moley, I can't believe how many of your posts I've missed. I've been sort of languishing over here.

Vagabonde said...

Thank you for showing the Armenian Orthodox cathedral of St James. I had heard a lot about it – that it was the seat of the Armenian Patriarch and that it dated from the 12th century - but did not know about the simandron. I had received many emails also about Baron Der, the 50 acre Armenian Church property bought in 1641 by the Armenian Patriarch of Jerusalem. It is located north of Bethlehem. I believe the Israel Army had seized it (it was used mostly as a retreat and income-producing orchard.) I wonder if they kept it or returned it to the Patriarch.