Directed by Edgar Baghdasaryan
Narrated by Aidan Quinn
Written and Produced by Fr. Mesrop Aramian
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 two 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 experienced 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.
Fr. Mesrop Aramian (Producer and Writer) is a priest of the Armenian Apostolic Church, theologian, scholar, writer and translator. He is the founder and director of the Gandzasar Theological Center, a leading research and publishing center in Armenia specialized in the fields of spirituality, culture, history and education. Fr. Mesrop is the founder and director Vem Radio, an Armenia-based FM radio station broadcasting spiritual, cultural, educational shows and classical music. Fr. Mesrop Aramian is the founder of Vem Media Arts, a video production studio. Vem Media Arts has produced several series of TV broadcasts and 12 documentaries mostly dedicated to environmental issues. In association with a group of friends, Fr. Mesrop has established Ayb Educational Foundation, which is a key player in the field of education in Armenia today. Fr. Mesrop has authored many books, articles, radio and TV shows, educational projects and programs.
Edgar Baghdasaryan’s (Director) debut film, "Games" (1990), won highest award as the best short film at several debut films festivals, e.g. in Clermon-Ferran (France), Riga (Latvia). The full-length, b/w feature film "The Black Wall", known also as "Outflow" (1997) received Grand Prix (shared with Alexander Sokurov's film) at "Private Look" Film Festival, Armenia; Special Prize of the Jury at Varna International Film Festival, Bulgaria; and FIPRESI Prize at Cottbus International Film Festival, Germany. His full-length documentary "The Land of Holy Rites" (2001) has participated in numerous festivals and received FIPRESI Prize at "Golden Apricot" International Film Festival, Armenia; Grand Prix and prizes in some other nominations at Pan-Armenian Festival of Spiritual Movies. The full-length feature film "Mariam" (2005) won the award for "Best Script" at "New Cinema of 21st Century" International Film Festival in Russia.
Ruben Gasparyan (Director of Photography) is a member of the Union of Cinematographers of Armenia and of the Confederation of Unions of Cinematographers of the CIS (Union of Former Soviet Republics) Countries. Since 1985, he has worked as a cameraman with "ArmenFilm" studio. Ruben Gasparyan has worked as a director of photography for 8 feature films, such as “Bonded Parallels” (director: Hovhannes Galstyan), 2009; “Landslides” (director: Mikayel Dovlatyan), under production; as well as for many educational films and documentaries.
Ara Torosyan (Music) is a violinist, composer and arranger. He has worked as a composer and arranger since 1992. In 1994-1996 Ara moved to Moscow where he worked with the Russian Public TV as a musical editor of the project “Rost”. Back to Armenia, Ara Torosyan has arranged music for hundreds of advertisements and jingle tracks for national and private TV & radio stations, for commercials of local and foreign companies; has arranged about two thousand songs. Ara Torosyan has composed musical themes for many theatrical performances, has scored music for a number of feature and documentary films, among them, director Edgar Baghdasaryan’s “The Land of Holy Rites” (2001), and “Mariam” (2003).
Abraham Terian is a professor of Armenian Patristics and Academic Dean at St. Nersess Armenian Seminary in New Rochelle, New York, and editor of the “St. Nersess Theological Review.” He was professor of Intertestamental and Early Christian Literatures for twenty years at Andrews University and for four years a recurring Visiting Professor for both Classical Armenian and Hellenistic Judaism at the University of Chicago (1984-7). He was granted the first “Fulbright Distinguished Chair in the Humanities” award in 2005. Dr. Terian has numerous articles in historical, philological, and literary periodicals and monographs, with major contributions to Hellenistic, Jewish, and Armenian Studies.
Roberta R. Ervine is a professor of Armenian Studies, a graduate of Columbia University, with extensive teaching experience at all levels, lately at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (1995-2001), where she taught a wide spectrum of courses in Armenian Studies and developed graduate and undergraduate curricula. She is the author of several monographs and numerous articles.
Michael E. Stone is a professor of Armenian Studies and Gail Levin de Nur Professor of Religious Studies at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. In addition to over 250 articles in scholarly journals, he is the author of series of books and monographs, such as “The Manuscript Library of the Armenian Patriarchate in Jerusalem,” “Apocryphal Fragments from Qumran and the Church Fathers,” etc.
Kevork (George) Hintlian is a Jerusalem historian specializing in 19th century Jerusalem. He frequently organizes conferences on the Christian heritage of the Holy Land and is author of a number of books, such as "Christian Heritage in the Holy Land", “History of Armenians in the Holy Land”, and many articles on this topic.
Jonathan Christopher Cleary has an AB in Folklore & Mythology and a PhD in East Asian Languages and Civilizations, both from Harvard. After working as a preschool teacher for many years, and then teaching college, he went into the software industry where he now works as a business process analyst and user interface designer. Over the years he has translated many Buddhist works from China, Korea, and Vietnam.