Church of the Holy Sepulchre – the Armenian Chapel of St. Vartan & the Ship Drawing

A final bit of evidence needs to be examined before leaving the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. On a lower level of the Church, you’ll find the Chapel of St. Helen. This is named for Constantine’s mother. It supposedly is in this area that according to legend, the “True Cross” was found during the 4th Century. This is highly doubtful and lends itself more to the notion that Christendom had entered an era of relic hunting by that point in its relatively young history.  

To get to the Chapel of St. Helen, visitors must head down a dark staircase that leads past hundreds of crosses inscribed on the walls by medieval pilgrims.  Today you can still see an ancient mosaic found on the floor.

Beneath the Chapel of St. Helen itself, archeologists began to dig here in 1978. A number of important finds have come about as a result. A wall has been found dating all the way back to the pagan temple dedicated to Aphrodite (@ 135AD) by Hadrian. Additionally, the foundations of Constantine’s Church (@336AD) have been located.  

On one wall, a drawing has been found that probably pre-dates the completion of Constantine’s structure. The drawing is of a boat with some inscribed writing underneath. This represents a kind of early grafitti.  

In Latin, the words are “Domine Ivimus”, meaning “Let us go to the Lord.” Historians believe a Christian pilgrim had arrived at Jerusalem by way of the sea and was expressing his joy upon having made it to this site! Due to its location, some believe the inscription pre-dates Constantine’s Church. If that is correct, it’s evidence that early Christians saw this site as significant prior to the Roman Emperor’s build of the Church.

Today this area is referred to as the Chapel of St. Vartan, named for one of the great military and spiritual leaders of the Armenians.