Outside the Old City walls, close to the Zion Gate, stand the 14th century St. Saviour church and the adjacent Armenian civil cemetery. The church courtyard, surrounded by an arcade, has served as a burial ground for the Armenian Patriarchs of Jerusalem since the 18th century. The bishops, guardians of the holy sites and second in rank to the patriarchs, are buried under the paving in the center of the courtyard. In charge of the holy sites and the church’s treasures, these men had great power when they were alive. Now, in death, the stones set on their graves serve as pavement for pilgrims and visitors to step on, a testimony to the bishops’ humility.
In the years after the First World War, following the Armenian Genocide, many Armenian refugees arrived in Jerusalem and settled within the grounds of St. James monastery. The Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem allocated a large area of the Mount Zion cemetery to civilians, meaning those who were not members of the clergy. The allocated land has since been divided to an area meant for church use, where monks live and priests are buried, and to an area intended for non-clergy burial.
Between 1948 and 1967 the cemetery was in no-man’s land between Israel and Jordan, and many buildings, tombs and ornaments were damaged. Residents of the Armenian quarter received a temporary burial area within the monastery compound inside the Old City, which was under Jordanian control. After 1967 Old City residents were once again able to use the Mount Zion cemetery. The second floor of the church building was renovated, and the arches were closed with glass windows. In the 1970s the Armenian community began construction on a new church, intending to incorporate old tombstones in the church walls. However, as a result of planning issues and the new Mount Zion zoning plan, construction stopped and the foundation was left to crumble.
The civil cemetery is still used for burial today, but due to significant emigration in the late 20th century with many Armenian families leaving Jerusalem, the cemetery is now mostly abandoned.
The church compound is also the place of residence for priests and other members of the clergy serving in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. The church and the courtyard, which were neglected for many years, have recently undergone restoration during the tenure of current Patriarch Nourhan Manougian.