Part 3. The Church of St. Gregory the Illuminator (St. Helena Chapel)


Michael E. Stone (Jerusalem), Khachik A. Harutyunyan
One of the oldest and most beautiful buildings of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is the Armenian St. Gregory the Illuminator Church (commonly known as the Chapel of St. Helena) located in the eastern part and on the lower level of the Holy Sepulchre Church, just a few steps away from the Armenian small chapel called “The Division of the Garment”. There is a narrow entrance, from which the gradually widening stairs descend to the spacious hall of the church.

There are two altars in the church. The main altar is dedicated to St. Gregory, right of which there is a small altar dedicated to St. John the Baptist. According to the Armenian tradition, the relics of St. John were buried under this small altar, by St. Gregory the Illuminator during his visit to Jerusalem in the early 4th century.

The church is rich in extensive and short Armenian inscriptions, the total number of which, according to our calculations, reaches about six dozen. 13 of them are regular inscriptions in Erkat‘agir (uncial) script, carved on small khachkars in different parts of the church, which were mainly published and are known to scholars. The rest of the inscriptions are mostly made by the simple scratching method, and are marked by their irregular writing. The oldest dated Armenian inscription in this chapel seems to be a graffito scratched in 1451 (see no 1), after which we have discovered another graffito scratched on the outside of the cupola in 1666 by an unknown Ter (= priest) Kirakos (see no 2).

Within the limits of the present article, we selectively present 16 inscriptions of the most complete, leaving the others for the forthcoming collection of the project “The Armenian Inscriptions of the Holy Land and Sinai”. In addition to the presented graffiti, in the second part of this article, we discuss three inscriptions that have already been published in order to make some corrections and additions to them.