Jerusalem: Armenian Bird Mosaic

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A few days ago I had the opportunity to see the famous Armenian Bird Mosaic. The mosaic originates from the 5th or 6th century and was discovered in 1894. It is located just outside Damascus gate of Jerusalem’s Old City and is not accessible to the public. You can only visit with the permission of the Armenian Patriarch and he allowed us a visit! The mosaic is actually stunning. The first sight is quite overwhelming, also because you do not expect this hidden gem behind a rather run-down entrance area. You enter the building through a dark hallway, and when the light is switched on in the room the bright and crispy images appear quite dramatic. The size of the mosaic floor is approximately 4×6 meters.

Above the border of the mosaic is an inscription in Armenian: “For the Memory and Redemption of all the Armenians whose names God knows”. It is probably the floor of a memorial chapel, a grave for an unknown soldier. The mosaic shows 39 birds in medallions that are connected by vines. The eagle/vulture looking back and the peacocks at the base are well-known references to the hereafter. Such mosaics are seen as connecting the world of the living and the dead. The caged bird in the middle depicts the soul in the carnal body which will be free in the hereafter. #thanatologyiseverywhere

I am, once again, indebted to Dina Blokland and of course to the Armenian Patriarch of Jerusalem for this great opportunity!


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