Armenian Monastery’s Aid for Napoleon

The Armenian monastery located in the old Jaffa (Tel Aviv) keeps a lot of stories. At one time, it served as a haven for sailors. And another time, the outstanding French statesman Napoleon Bonaparte asked its Armenian patriarch for help.

The monastery of St. Nicholas is located in one of the old ports of Tel Aviv Jaffa. The church was built more than ten centuries ago and named after St. Nicholas, the patron saint of pilgrims and seafarers.

“For centuries, pilgrims and seafarers found shelter in the church. Each of them knew that they could rest here and then continue their journey, ” the abbot of St. Nicholas Church in Tel Aviv Tiran Hakobyan said in a conversation with the Sputnik Armenia’s correspondent.

The monastery has had and still has strategic importance for the Armenians of Jaffa. The name of the port is symbolic – in some sources, it is said that the port was named after the younger son of Noah Japheth (Latin – Iapetus), hence the name of the port city. In three thousand-years Egyptian papyri, the port is referred to as “Euphraet” or “Jaffet”, which means beautiful.

There were always plenty of Armenians in this city. They came here and bought property such as houses or shops. Leaving Israel, they gave the acquired property to the temple. Thanks to these acquisitions, the monastery was expanded and fortified under patriarch Gregory in the 18th century.

An interesting event is connected with the church. After the Egyptian campaign in 1799, when Napoleon was headed towards Syria, several dozen soldiers of his army fell ill with plague and seasickness.

“The army of Napoleon headed to the Armenian church, asking the priests for help. Among the Armenian clerics were those who possessed the secrets of medicine. They took care of the soldiers of Napoleon’s army,” Hakobyan said. Some of the soldiers were cured, but the rest either died because of illness or was shot by the order of Napoleon.

The future Emperor of the French personally thanked the Armenian patriarch for the rendered service and gave him his tent and sword that he had always carried with him. This event is depicted in a painting by a French artist Antoine-Jean Gros presented to Napoleon in 1804. The painting is now displayed in one of the largest museums in the world, the Louvre. A copy is kept in the church of St. Nicholas in Tel Aviv.

Today, the church serves as a haven for Armenians, who mainly moved to the Land of Israel from Armenia in the 90s of the last century. Every weekend, they gather here to both worship and solve important issues of the community.

“It is difficult to take care of any building near the sea due to the constant dampness. The walls of this monastery breathe in salt and moisture 24 hours a day. Therefore, the temple does not have frescos as we constantly restore it,” Hakobyan said. The tower of the church and its appearance differ from the classical Armenian structures – there is no characteristic elongated dome.

In the church today, a cultural and educational center is held, where the Armenian language and literature are taught as well as christenings, liturgies, and weddings are held. The Armenians of Israel do not forget about their historical homeland.

During the clashes in the Republic of Artsakh in April 2016, the community of Armenians of Israel with the assistance of the church collected funds and medicine for about 10 thousand soldiers of the Artsakh Defense Army.

Laura Sargsyan

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