The first head of the Jerusalem Church was Apostle James. After the patriarchy of Jerusalem finally adopted the Chalcedonian dogma in the 4th century, an independent Armenian patriarchate was formed in Jerusalem.
The first Armenian patriarch of Jerusalem known to us was Abraham, who, according to the Arab historian Zeki-al-Din, seeing the strengthening of the power of Muhammad in 626, personally met him and obtained a charter on the immunity of the Jerusalem Armenian Church.
This and subsequent charters issued on the basis of previous ones greatly contributed to the consolidation of the integrity of the patriarchate, providing a basis of respect for its rights and privileges among subsequent conquerors of the city.
When Umar (Umar ibn al-Khattab, reigned 634-644) captured Jerusalem, he allowed Christians freedom of faith and permitted them to perform regular religious services. He was a very gracious and truthful ruler. During his reign, one interesting case occurred, which is described by historian Zeki-al-Din and others, as well as in the very charter of Umar (638).
A certain Armenian had a vineyard where Arab peasants worked for a daily payment. When the fruit ripened, these Arab workers and soldiers of the Arab army took away all the grapes from the Armenian.
Having always paid the workers their salary, the astonished Armenian complained to Umar about this and also reminded him of the charter issued to Armenians by Muhammad, which guaranteed the inviolability of Armenian possessions and lands.
Umar then personally visited the garden. On the way, he saw his friend Abu Huraira who was carrying a basket of grapes. Umar asked him: “You also were among those, Abu Huraira? Do you not know that they have an agreement with us?” To which Abu Huraira replied: “Oh! The ruler of the believers, I considered it a right to take of this man’s fruits, for he is from the class of convicts.”
Umar reached the garden and saw it plundered. He then compensated for all the damages to the owner. Umar asked for the charter of Muhammad and then issued his own charter on the immunity of the Jerusalem Armenian Church and its possessions…
During the rule of Ali ibn Abi Talib (reigned in 656-661), Armenians received a new charter from him, which was written on the basis of the charters of Muhammad and Umar.
When Jerusalem was captured by Egyptian Sultan Salah ad-Din (Saladin, reigned 1174-1193), Armenians, to express their obedience to the Sultan, asked him for the same privileges and rights that they had received from Muhammad, Umar, and Ali. Saladin, after reading the old charters, issued his own in 1187.
“I, victor Salah ad-Din, the son of Ayyub, the son of Shadi, with a certain victory of mine issued this certificate.
It is thanks to God that my insignificant hand opened the doors of the Holy City and cleared its temples of idols. May prayer and health be bestowed upon the one who was sent for the sake of peace for the human race, and that was Muhammad, the son of Abdallah (may prayer and good health be bestowed upon him and his comrades).
This is what Muhammad wrote and what was also approved by Sultan Salah ad-Din, the sovereign of the powerful and glorious and beautiful temple (may the Lord perpetuate here his days of glorious domination, and in the other world, bless him with goods and happiness).
The son of Khattab Umar, our lord (whom the Lord favors and whose glory may He multiply), obeyed the decree of Muhammad. He was meekly followed by the son of Abi Talib, Ali – our lord (whom the Lord favors and whose glory may He multiply).
And we should obey and follow their paths. At the request of obedience to the Apostle of God (may peace be with him), the son of Khattab Umar, our lord, and son of Abi Talib Ali (whom both the Lord favors) elected the Armenian people and their co-religionists, the Christian nations – the Ethiopians, Copts, and Syrians.
Both for the aforementioned and for every nation that were given to us by God – for distant and near, familiar and unfamiliar – this was written as if a quivering covenant and well-known decree and as if an inheritance to be passed to my successors, by means of which their love of truth will become apparent.
This is a duty given to Muslims, which they must respectfully observe. And if someone makes more than what is prescribed here, they will thereby make this covenant dishonest; and if any one of the believers or the Muslims opposes this, then he will be against the edicts of God’s Apostle (peace be upon him).
This charter was approved by all of my nobility, nobles and cohabitants, and their followers. Truly, whoever opposes this, be he a Muslim or a believer, a king or any other, will dishonor the divine covenant, become a debtor of the court, and one that neglects his responsibilities.
And therefore, I, with this charter, adopted their covenant and the union requested from me and from the commanders of my kingdom, from Muslims and from believers, and all which the prophet and Apostle of Muslims and believers, as well as his successors, had previously bestowed.
Great are my covenant and duties required by the Lord from the prophet and Apostle and the king who stand directly next to the true worship of God; and this duty is, in its nature, the keeping of the commandments established by the divine covenant.
This is the duty by which the gorges and palm gardens and citizens of all large and small counties and provinces will be protected and their services (prayers) and churches secured; in particular, a large church named Mar Yacoub [St. James] which is located at Sion in the southeast side of the city; as well as their church known as the Church of the Olives [St. Archangels]; and the church known as the Dungeon of Christ [Holy Savior]; the church of Bethlehem and Nablus; also the place found behind the Church of the Resurrection [St. Gregory Church], which is treated with great faith; and the place where they think the light comes from, which is the grave of the Messiah (peace be upon him); as well as the upper and the lower limits of Calvary; and the very place where the Cross stood; and the church of St. Hovhannes.
These are the places and sides of the Armenian people, inside and outside the city; no one among the Christian nations should dare to dispute these places. He gave these places to them, as the Apostle of God had given in advance (may prayer and peace be with him) along with his noble friends who followed him; and I, too, completely gave them all of this along with churches and chapels, rooms for monks and pilgrims – no matter where they are, whether in the mountains or in the gorges, or in the caves.
And may their faith and possessions be unshakable, whether at sea or on land, in the East or in the West, wherever my breath dominates. May no distinction be put between them and the believers of my people and the Orthodox; and may they be safe from all kinds of sorrows and deprivations, abominations and evil.
And if anyone becomes an enemy to some of their places, he will be considered an enemy to me, my associates, and my people. I am their absolute master, and therefore, it is necessary and worthy to protect them from all sorts of abominations. And if an external problem happens, let them solve it themselves – as for you, don’t become hardened by such cases.
May the bishop not abandon his bishopric, the Christian his Christianity, the archimandrite his teaching, the traveler his path, and may none of the archimandrites be banished from their monastic cells.
Do not admonish anyone of the Christian nations to convert to Islam so that church houses or places of prayer don’t collapse. And if someone does such a deed, let him be an oath-breaker of God and an opponent of His Apostle who gave this oath to the Patriarch Abram; let him be an opponent of Umar (may the Lord favor him), as well as of my obligations and covenants, on the basis of which I made a covenant with them and their followers – the Ethiopians, Copts, and Syrians; such people shall be wicked before God and indebted to the Apostle and his friends.
And if the guardians or the bishops have difficulties in doing something, then in such cases, it is necessary to console them in their needs. Do not impose taxes on merchants and their sales higher than supposed. Let them pay 12 dinars of taxes a year. Do not burden them with taxes beyond their ability, as well as don’t demand from taxpayers more than their ability.
In the event of a war with the enemies, so that nothing would be required from them, for this war is not being waged for them, let them only pay ordinary taxes. It is for this reason that I gave the oath charter of God and His Apostle (peace be upon him).
All those obligations that are written with an oath and a treaty shall be on Muslims, and let it be the price of blood or the special debts of sacred items, let there also be [obligations] on them.
And if they need to repair their churches, then let the Muslims hurry to help them with donations, and this is necessary not because we believe in their religion but as mercy and alms and in the glory of the oath of the Apostle of God, as well as in the name of God and His Apostle.
And this canon was established by the Apostle of God (may peace be with him) and was as if laid upon them [Muslims] as the necessary duty of faithfully keeping their promises.
May it not be that their property or animals be used as a service; may it not be for them to become slaves for silver; and may not some of the Muslims put any obstacles in their affairs.
By the decree of the Apostle (may peace be with him) and approval of some leaders, may you not violate any of your duties in their relation.
And if anyone refutes or simplifies these canons, may he be an oath-breaker before God and His Apostle, who gave this covenant and agreement to Patriarch Abram, which was then passed on to the bishops, the Armenian archimandrites, the people of Armenia, and their followers – Ethiopians, Copts, and Syrians.
This covenant and contract are as if insurance of duties towards them from God and the Apostle, his successors, henchmen, as well as Muslims and believers.
The duties imposed on the Apostle and his people are much harsher and more impartial than those duties that come from the security of faith and promises.
And may this charter of credence from me and my successor caliphs, the family of Muhammad, and all believers and Muslims be unchanged now and until the end of the world and until the time when the Lord inherits the Earth and when He becomes the Goodness of all heirs.
This charter was testified by the Muslim brothers and believers present. It was written on the 20th day of the month of Rajab and our prophet (may peace be upon him) in 582 AH . May God end his demise in peace.
I, the insignificant Izzeddin, also testified. I, the insignificant Sheheddin, also testified. I, the insignificant Nechmeddin Ertiham, also testified. I, the insignificant Ebulovn, also testified.”
These charters are kept in the archives of the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem (photos from the book “Armenian Art Treasures of Jerusalem”, 1979)