Chapel of Saint Vartan

By the Editors of the Madain Project

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The Saint Vartan's Chapel is a small celler located directly below the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, as a part of the ancient stone quarry. It is located in an ancient quarry behind a wrought iron gate (open only with permission from the Armenians), in the chapel of Saint Helena, is the Chapel of St Vartan and the Armenian Martyrs.


The chapel is dedicated to Saint Vartan (387–451 CE), who was an Armenian military leader, a martyr and a saint of the Armenian Church. He is best known for leading the Armenian army at the Battle of Avarayr in 451 CE, which ultimately secured the Armenians' right to practice Christianity.

The main altar of the Armenian Chapel (left) and the framed DOMINE IVIMUS ship inscription to the right in the Chapel of Vartan. The quarry and chapel were excavated in 1970-71 under the direction of Archimandrite (now Bishop) Guregh Kapikian of the Armenian Orthodox Church. During the excavation parts of six ancient walls were found -- four dating to the Hadrianic period (2nd century CE) and two to the time of Emperor Constantine (4th century CE).

The chapel is believed to contain the oldest inscription left by a Christian pilgrim to the ancient Holy city of Jerusalem. This inscription was found elsewhere but was placed here and is now protected by a glass screen. Parts of a wall belonging to the Hadrianic Temple (2nd century CE) and Constantinian Church (4th century CE) can still be seen in this celler.


circa 1150 CE

Access from the Saint Helen's Chapel
The entrance (identify) to the Saint Vartan's Chapel (locate) is from within the Saint Helena's Chapel. The iron grill door to the far left allows entry in to a First Temple period stone quarry, where the small Chapel dedicated to Saint Vartan is Located.

circa 1150 CE

Access Stairs to the Subterranean Chamber
The access staircase to the lower parts of the stone quarry is located in the north-western corner of the chapel. Originally this area was directly accessible from the Chapel of Saint Helena via staircase to the left.

circa 1150 CE

Lowest Point Below the Holy Sepulchre
This cavity underneath the Saint Vartan's Chapel is the lowest accessible point (locate) below the modern Church of Holy Sepulchre. There are two cavities here in this area, which is accessible via a narrow staircase from within the Saint Vartan's Chapel. This area was excavated in the early years of 1970s.

"DOMINE IVIMVS" Ship Inscription

circa 1150 CE

The ship drawing was discovered in November 1971 CE on the side of one of the Hadrianic walls. The drawing and inscription were possibly left by a pilgrim to the Holy Land around 330 CE when the original church was under construction. This is a representation of a Byzantine sailing ship. The bow is to the left and the stern, and two stearing rudders to the right. The mast, and sail, seem to have been lowered. According to M. Broshi the Latin inscription reads: "DOMINE IVIMVS, ‘Lord, we have gone.’" possibly the Latin version of Psalm 121:1.

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