The Holy Archangels Church – “Dir Zeitun” כנסיית המלאכים הקדושים- 'דיר זייתון'


site Profile

The House of the Holy Archangels is much smaller and more modest than the main Cathedral and,
serves the routine spiritual needs of the local community, It is located in the southeastern part of the
Monastery compound, and is used for weddings, baptisms, memorial services and funerals. It is
believed that the ancient foundations of the Church were already laid in the 4th century. During the
course of restoration works, ancient inscriptions from the 12th century and a baptismal font were
uncovered. An inscription found on the southern wall notes that the church was renovated in 1286 by
the Armenian King Leon II. The portico which was open in the past is now sealed,turning it into
something like of roofed courtyard. The Church is divided into a hall by means of four square piers, in
which there are two elevated aisles. In the stone facades there are rows of crosses ‘Khatchkars’ that
were etched into the stone by pilgrims. There are decorative Kütahya tiles lining the walls. Most of the
tiles are painted blue and have traditional Armenian floral themes. There are a small number of
illustrations depicting biblical scenes. The central altar was built in 1733. To its right, there is an arched
passageway that leads to the priests’ dressing room, with a wooden door dating from 1649 which is
decorated with a large engraved cross with the following inscription: “This door was dedicated by
Chamat the architect to the memory of Minas Father.” The main entrance gate to the complex includes
a small security booth. In the past, the church treasures were kept there, and making it an attractive site
for thieves. There are a number of traditions, legends and beliefs associated with the site:

A. In the church courtyard, there is an ancient and sacred olive tree which has become a site of
devotion for pilgrims. It is customary to visit the site on the eve of Good Friday, in order to harvest its
fruit and weave chains and prayer beads out of the olive pits. It is believed that these beads have
miraculous powers that help cure disease and infertility.

B. On the right hand wall of the Church, approximately 50 centimeters above floor level, there is a
stone with a crack, shaped like a mouth. This stone is called the Hosanna Stone and it is claimed that
the crack in the stone was created when Jesus entered Jerusalem and reprimanded the Pharisees:
“Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, ‘Teacher, rebuke your disciples!’ ‘I tell you,’ he
replied, ‘if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.’” (Luke 19:39-40)

C. Inside the church, on the left, is a small chapel, which is associated with Jesus’ first imprisonment.
This site is not mentioned in the New Testament, but appears in ancient Armenian tradition, according
to which Jesus was brought from Gethsemane to Annas house, where he was briefly imprisoned: “Then
the detachment of soldiers with its commander and the Jewish officials arrested Jesus. They bound
him and brought him first to Annas, who was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest” (John

D. Inside the Church, there are two altars, each dedicated to angels. According to tradition, it was here
that King David saw God’s angel at the threshing-floor of Araunah the Jebusite: “When the angel
stretched out his hand to destroy Jerusalem, the Lord relented concerning the disaster and said to the
angel who was afflicting the people, “Enough! Withdraw your hand.” The angel of the Lord was then at
the threshing-floor of Araunah the Jebusite. 17 When David saw the angel who was striking down the
people, he said to the LORD, “I have sinned; I, the shepherd, have done wrong. These are but sheep.
What have they done? Let your hand fall on me” (Samuel B 24:16).

E. There is an Armenian tradition whereby when the Franciscan monks were expelled from their own
monastery on Mount Zion, the Armenians invited them to live in the Angels’ Monastery.

F. There are those who claim that the very existence of the ancient Monastery and Church were kept
secret until the arrival of Helena, mother of Constantine the Great in Jerusalem in approximately 330
AD. It was only then that their existence became known to the Christians in the city.

G. There is a tradition stating that in the 7th century, the site served as a convent for elderly nuns and
sisters, who devoted their lives to prayer and meditation. One of the conjectures as to the origin of the name of the Church (The Angels’ Church) is that the holy angels covered their faces when Jesus was
struck by the servants of the high priest.

Tension Level

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Parent Usages

  • Church (Armenian) active
  • Church (Orthodox) active
  • Prayer Site (Christian) active

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