The narthex

The narthex has been modified, and significantly reduced in size, compared to its original form. The floor is from the sixth century, but the plaster-covered walls do not reflect their original beauty, as the entire church would have been covered with white-veined marble.

Based on research into Byzantine architecture, it is assumed that the narthex was not only decorated with marble but also adorned with mosaics. After the restoration to be carried out in the near future, and with the removal of the plaster, the mosaic wall decorations will once again be visible.

As noted above, the Justinian narthex has been divided into four areas, and during the Crusader period the two areas at the extremes served as bases for the four-storey high bell towers that were erected.

Of these two areas, characterized by typical Crusader-style arches, one is today used as a porter’s lodge for the Armenian monastery, while the other has taken the name Chapel of St. Helena and is the property of the Franciscan friars.

The walls at the entrance to the Armenian monastery have been cleaned and restored to their original state: holes can still be seen in the stones that were used for attaching the marble originally adorning the walls. The plaster on the walls of the narthex makes it difficult to comprehend the true scale of the side doors, which are visible only from inside the church, where the walls are covered with crumbling plaster.

This area is an obligatory passage for all pilgrims who wish to enter the church from the square and represents an area common to the three Communities. For this reason, it has been very difficult to reach agreement on maintenance works necessary for strengthening the structure.

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