The colorful mosaic of Christian pilgrimages to the Holy Land has been shaped over two thousand years. Pilgrims have brought their stories with them, and left their memories with the land.
Here the documentary filmmakers have given us a view of some essential passages in these stories, to reveal the precious identities which the stories preserve. They follow the paths taken by Armenian pilgrims as they travel between to focal points of history – from the Mount Ararat to Zion, from A to Z.
For the filmmakers themselves, the process of making this film became a pilgrimage they will remember throughout their lives. They personally experiences the perils of the journeys made so long ago by pilgrims who called themselves “those who witnessed death.”
The documentary communicates the spirit of pilgrimage which has nurtured and sustained the sanctuaries and monasteries of the Holy Land over the centuries. At the cost of immeasurable sacrifices and immense exertions, pilgrims have come to the Holy Shrines to witness the earthly presence of God.
The viewer sees the Holy Shrines through the pilgrims’ eyes. Though they may have been put on display many times before, these special places emerge anew in the film, revealing their otherworldly essence and life-transforming power.
The film shows such striking scenes as the Holy Sepulcher by night, the colorful spectacles of Easter in Jerusalem, the Ceremony of Holy Light, Mount Sinai in Egypt, the Monasteries of the Judean Desert, the summit of Mount Ararat.
The documentary is woven together to make an impact at every level, through the exceptional narration of Aidan Quinn, the beautiful music of Lisa Gerrard, and the striking visuals and personal reflections.
Scenes from the film...
The Biblical Mount Ararat
The film begins and ends with views of the Biblical Mount Ararat. In the opening scenes we ascend Mount Ararat, where according to Holy Scripture, humanity was given a new beginning of life.
In the final scenes, we reach the summit of Mount Ararat, where, having overcome the hardships of the journey, we find ourselves again at the Beginning of All – in the arms of heaven – and Time has stopped for us.
We enter the City of Peace that has never known peace, the city where so many conflicts have been fought out. We feel acutely both the unity of humankind and the diversity of humankind.
If such a mixture of incompatible nations and religions were brought together anywhere else but Jerusalem, it would be an explosive combination. But here, in this city, some imperceptible power, some inexplicable blessing, keeps these volatile mix in virtual balance and harmony. Experiencing the world here, you feel you are standing at its epicenter.
The Church of the Holy Sepulcher, Jerusalem
We arrive at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the heart of the Christian pilgrimage, aware that the most meaningful events in Biblical history occurred here, at this site.
First we see the Church by day, with pilgrims streaming in from all over the world.
Then we walk into the nighttime reality, when the Church doors are locked, and the Church is left to itself, with the servants of its solitude, and the few fortunate pilgrims who manage to get permission to stay inside the Church.
We reveal sights that are closed to most visitors. We witness a mosaic of night time rituals put together by various nations, with fragrant incense, ancient prayers, and spell-binding chants. Here traditions are carefully observed – everything is done in the same way as it has been through the centuries.
We witness the unique ritual of the locking and unlocking of the Church doors, a ritual that has been carried out without interruption for over eight hundred years, ever since Saladin conquered Jerusalem.
The Armenian Quarter, Jerusalem
We enter the Armenian Cathedral of St James, one of the principal shrines in the Holy Land, famous for its three hundred lamps. Under the main altar lies the grave of St James the Just, brother of the Lord, and first Bishop of Jerusalem. The ancient chapel north of the Church holds the head of St James, son of Zebedee, the first martyr among the Apostles.
Next we proceed to St Thoros Church, where Jerusalem’s unique collection of Armenian manuscripts is preserved
Our next stop is the Monastery of the Holy Archangels, built into the north wall of the Church. This is a major sanctuary-chapel, known as the first prison of Christ.
From Jaffa to Jerusalem
We follow the route of Armenian pilgrims from Jaffa to Jerusalem. In Jaffa, Armenians own the Monastery of St Nicholas, which is intended especially for pilgrims. The Monastery of St Nicholas served as a hospital for the sick soldiers of Napoleon during his expedition to the Holy Land in 1799.
In days gone by, the route taken by the pilgrims was often treacherous. They risked death from disease, in shipwrecks, and from bandit attacks. Pilgrims were advised to make out their wills and confess their sins to a priest before taking this perilous trip.
We come to St George Armenian Monastery in Remla, where Armenian pilgrims stayed over on their way from Jaffa to Jerusalem.
Many pilgrims found their last resting place in Jerusalem. Outside the walls of Old Jerusalem, we see a structure that served as a mass grave for poor pilgrims.
The sacred geography of Armenian monasticism and pilgrimage extends into Egypt. We advance toward the renowned Monastery of St Catherine, situated at the foot of Mount Sinai. Here, we see a unique collection of ancient icons dating from the 5th and 6th centuries. Among these is the earliest known icon of Christ. We go inside the Monastery’s famous repository of early manuscripts and codices, which preserves unique Greek, Coptic, Arabic, Armenian, Hebrew, Georgian and Syrian texts.
Then we climb up the summit of Mount Sinai. We read the well-preserved Armenian inscriptions on the summit of Mount Sinai, where Moses received the Ten Commandments.
Armenians were among the founders of the monastic movement in the Holy Land from the 4th through the 6th centuries. We follow in the footsteps of great Armenian ascetics and monks through the Judean Desert. We visit the Monasteries of St George of Choziba, of St Sabbas the Sanctified, of St Euthymius the Great.
Mystery of the Holy Light
During Easter in Jerusalem, we are witness to intense spiritual drama. Every pilgrim longs to witness the ceremony of the Light appearing from Christ's Tomb. But access to the old city is restricted on that day, and only a few succeed in getting inside the Church.
In the Holy Sepulcher a crowd speaking languages from all over the world waits eagerly for the Resurrection Light to be taken out of the Lord's Tomb. Present at the Tomb are the Greek Patriarch and the Armenian Archimandrite. They light the lanterns and distribute the Resurrection Light to the pilgrims. In a few seconds, the Church is illuminated with tongues of flame, and the tension of waiting in anticipation is transformed into a spirit of peace and reconciliation.