St. James Cathedral Added to World Monuments Fund Watch List

The New York-based World Monuments Fund (WMF) has placed the Cathedral of St. James in the Armenian Quarter of Jerusalem's Old City on its 2010 watch list of 93 cultural heritage sites at risk in 47 countries. The list, which is the WMF's flagship advocacy program, is intended to call international attention to threatened landmarks. The 2010 Watch ranges from famous sites like Machu Picchu, Peru to the unexpected like the Merritt Parkway, Connecticut. The Old City of Lod is the second Israeli site on the newly-released list.

"The 2010 Watch makes it clear that cultural heritage efforts in the 21st century must recognize the critical importance of sustainable stewardship, and that we must work closely with local partners to create viable and appropriate opportunities to advance this," said WMF president Bonnie Burnham in a press release. "The sites on the 2010 Watch list make a dramatic case for the need to bring together a variety of sectors -economic, environmental, heritage preservation, and social - when we are making plans that will affect us all. Greater cooperation among these sectors would benefit humanity today, while ensuring our place as stewards of the Earth for the next generation."

"The World Monuments Watch has evolved since its inception 14 years ago," added Erica Avrami, the WMF's research and education director. "With a greater number of urban centers and cultural landscapes, this year's watch reflects a growing understanding that heritage cannot be preserved in isolation, but rather must be addressed as part of a broad physical and social context. Not all sites on the watch list are in imminent danger. Many face challenges on the horizon, providing the opportunity to engage in dialogue and decision making now, so as to avoid problems in the future. Heritage conservation can be an effective tool for community development, economic growth, and sustainable land use."

St. James, also known in French as St. Jacques and as Saint Jacob Armenian Cathedral, is the seat of the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem. The landmark incorporates the traditional site of the tombs of Jesus' brother James, known as St. James the Minor, who was the first bishop of Jerusalem. According to Catholic tradition, St. James the Greater (one of Jesus' 12 Apostles) - who was executed in the first century by King Herod Agrippa I - is buried at the shrine of Santiago de Compostela in north-west Spain. Armenians however believe the Apostle's head is entombed at the Jerusalem cathedral that bears his name.

Built on the remains of a 5th-century Georgian church, St. James' present structure is one of the few remaining Crusader cathedrals to have survived almost intact. Most of the current interior decoration dates from the renovation carried out by Patriarch Gregory the Chainbearer (1715-1749). St. James is the focus of the Armenian community's annual Easter panoply, including a festive parade through the street of the Old City led by the traditional boy scouts marching band. See

As early as 1195, St. James served as a refuge for the Armenian poor when a large hospice was attached to the church. Local Armenian merchants worked to beautify and enlarge the monastery through the centuries. This close relationship between the cathedral and the Armenian community was further solidified in the 17th century, when the cathedral was designated the seat of the Armenian Patriarchate, around which Jerusalem's Armenian Compound was established. Building activities intensified after the 1840s, and by the end of the 19th century the cathedral was reputed for its architectural ornament and its collection of jeweled vestments and manuscripts. After the Ottoman genocide of an estimated 1.5 million Armenians during World War I and Soviet dominance of Armenia, St. James became a spiritual and cultural center of great importance for the Armenian diaspora.

The 1,500 people dwelling today in the Armenian Compound adjoining St. James Cathedral are the descendants of the survivors of the Turkish genocide of 1915.

By placing St. James on its watch list, the WMF hopes to draw attention to the structural problems and deterioration of the cathedral's elaborate interiors. Conservation and long-term management are sought to preserve the building, and to facilitate visitation and religious pilgrimage to the site.

Launched in 1996 and issued every two years, the WMF watch list is assembled by an international panel of experts in archaeology, architecture, art history and preservation. Nearly half the 630 sites featured on the watch lists have received WMF support totalling $50-million. Those WMF funds in turn leveraged an additional $150-million in assistance from other sources.

Israeli sites on the seven previous WMF watch lists include: Apollonia-Arsuf, Herzliya (2004); Beit She'arim, Kiryat Tivon (2002); the Templer Gemeindehaus, Haifa (1998, 1996); the White Mosque, Ramla, (2000, 1998); the Canaanite Gate, Tel Dan (2000); and the White City, Tel Aviv (1996).

The WMF watch list is not to be confused with UNESCO's list of World Heritage Sites, which includes six monuments in Israel: the Biblical tels of Hazor, Megiddo and Beer Sheva, the Nabatean Spice Route including Haluza, Mamshit and Shivta; Masada; Crusader Acre; Bauhaus Tel Aviv; and the Baha'i Holy Places in Acre and Haifa. As well, in 1982, the Old City of Jerusalem was put on UNESCO's list of World Heritages Sites in danger.

Gil Zohar is tour guide and a freelance writer for; the only Christian social network focused on travel to the Holy Land. The site offers unique travel tours, expert content, a vibrant social community providing travel advice to people interested in learning about or traveling to the Holy Land.