The compound of St James Convent, which contains the Church of St James, is like a miniature city with residences for more than 1000 families. Behind its fortress-like walls are the patriarchate, a hospice, living quarters for nuns and priests, a school, social clubs and a printing press — the first in Jerusalem, established in 1833. Map.
Across the street from the main gate is an Armenian Orthodox seminary. Some scholars believe this the site of Pilate’s praetorium, formerly the palace of Herod the Great. In that case, the judgement seat where Jesus was condemned (John 19:13) would have been on an open square where the Church of St James now stands.
Visitors may normally enter the compound only with an Armenian guide, but two institutions are open to the public:
- The Mardigian Museum (open 10am-4.30pm Mon-Sat) contains exhibits on Armenian art, culture and history, with a section devoted to the tragic genocide of perhaps two million Armenians by Ottoman Turks in the early 20th century.
- The Gulbenkian Library (open 3.30-6pm Mon-Fri) has more than 100,000 volumes and extensive files of Armenian periodicals and newspapers.