La Jérusalem Nouvelle et les Premiers Sanctuaires Chrétiens de L'Arménie

The author is a very reliable guide through the documents. The book therefore starts with Eusebius’ dedication sermon at Tyre, connecting the church with the Temple – not the Jerusalem Temple on earth but its model, the one in heaven. Synagogues were also connected with the heavenly Temple, although the author does not say so. The Beth Alphaa mosaic, for instance, has angels on the nave floor and in the picture of the sanctuary (see cover of Strata), and the simplest explanation is that this synagogue too represented the heavenly Temple. It was also true of Constantine’s church on Golgotha. But the area, which was known as Golgotha long before, already had a building on it – the Temple of Aphrodite: this being the principal reason for pulling the shrine to Aphrodite down. During the clearing of the site an unexpected event took place. The Tomb of Christ was discovered, and the author accepts the statements of Eusebius (Vita Const. 3.30.4) and Sozomen, who lived in about 400 CE (Hist. Eccles. 2.1.5), that inside it were pieces of the cross. She thus rejects as legendary their finding by Helena. The rock, now revered as the site of Golgotha, as Gibson and Taylor have said, is far too small for three crosses, and a wider area for Golgotha is also implied by calling the Martyrium, to use the words of Egeria, the ‘Great Church built by Constantine on Golgotha behind the Cross’. So what is the Rock of Calvary containing the cross itself? The author, judging perhaps from the unsuitability of the site, thinks that it must commemorate another miracle, and suggests Cyril’s luminous cross which extended fromtheMount of Olives to the Anastasis. But there is no need to suggest such a miracle. The cross may have been there since the first arrangement of Golgotha. In my mind it served as a focus for the whole Golgotha area, and, according to Egeria (Itin. 37.5) the people who looked at this cross during Holy Week thought simply of the suffering Christ.

Vałaršapat, or Ēĵmiacin, the present seat of the patriarch, had been ruined and burnt to the ground by the Persians in the 360s. The city included four holy places, according to the Vision of St. Gregory: the Mother Church, the places where the first virgins were martyred and the oil-press where they lived. St. Sahak rebuilt the churches and dedicated them between 414 and 417 CE. But at almost the same time (417 to 435 CE according to Charles Renoux) the Armenian Church adopted the calendar of Jerusalem. This meant a change in the church year, but it also implied a need to get some parallel holy places linking Vałaršapat and Jerusalem. So the four churches were given parallels from Jerusalem. The church farthest to the east, St. Hrip’simē, was the Eleona. The oil-press was the church of Gethsemane, which is Aramaic for ‘oil-press’. TheMother Church was the Basilica of Constantine, now the Holy Sepulchre, and the one to the south, St. Gayanē, was Holy Sion. The book ends with a study of theMother Church of Ēĵmiacin. Anahit Sahinyan was the only archaeologist allowed to excavate the church, and he was working in the 1950s, since when there have been many improvements to archaeological method. Sahinyan concluded that the present church was founded at the end of the 5th century. Garibian de Vartavan shows that very little is known about the history of the church, apart from the fact (or legend) that it was founded by the first missionary to Armenia, St. Gregory the Illuminator. If this is true it ranks as a famous church, but the history of its restoration and repairs is almost completely lacking. At the beginning of the 5th century St. Sahak did some repairs (which are unknown), in 487 CE VahanMamikonean had to do some more repairs to stabilise the church, and by 618 the Catholicos Komitas changed the wooden roof into one built of stone. This is all the information available and highlights how great our need is for comparable studies on other famous Armenian churches, I hope by someone as reliable as Garibian de Vartavan.

This is an excellent book, not least because it fearlessly offers new and convincing interpretations of the documents.

To acquire the book visit

John Wilkinson

Former Director, British School of Archaeology in Jerusalem