2010 World Monuments Watch
Entering the cobblestone alleys of the Cathedral of St. James is a journey back in time. The large patriarchal monastery of St. James was built during the 12th century on the remains of a 5th-century Georgian church, on a site that was identified as the burial place of the first bishop of Jerusalem (St. James Minor). Resting in the southwestern corner of the Old City of Jerusalem, the structure is one of the few cathedrals from the Crusades to have survived almost intact. As early as 1195, St. James served as a refuge for the Armenian poor when a large hospice was attached to the church. Local Armenian merchants worked to beautify and enlarge the monastery through the centuries. This close relationship between the cathedral and the Armenian community was further solidified in the 17th century, when the cathedral was designated the seat of the Armenian Christian Church, around which the Armenian quarter of Jerusalem was established. Building activities intensified after the 1840s, and by the end of the 19th century the cathedral was reputed for its architectural ornament and its collection of jeweled vestments and manuscripts. After the first genocide and Soviet dominance of Armenia, St. James became a spiritual and cultural center of great importance for the Armenian diaspora. This sacred place of history, identity, and unity is threatened by structural problems and deterioration of the elaborate interiors. Conservation and long-term management are sought to preserve the cathedral and to facilitate visitation and religious pilgrimage to the site, as well as to promote dialogue in a place so troubled by conflict yet so rife with shared history.