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The story behind the Medieval Armenian Cross that's now in the Vatican Museums

2015-03-29

It's hard to imagine a time when St. Peter's Square didn't exist. But long before Bernini's columns stood high and long before the Vatican's dome became a hallmark of Rome, pilgrims still visited the area, to pray before the remains of St. Peter. 

Among the pilgrims were thousands of Armenians who traveled to the Eternal City to pay their respects. In fact, there was even a welcoming home for Armenian visitors. 

MIKAYEL MINASYAN
Armenian Ambassador to the Holy See 
"The priest who was responsible for managing this home, placed a cross made out of stone at the entrance. It was a cross with a traditional Armenian design.” 

Now the Vatican Museums has that very cross as part of its permanent exhibit. Even though the welcoming home closed its doors and everything seemed to disappear, that cross re-emerged hundreds of years later. Armenian's president Serzh Sargsyan was there for its unveiling, back in September 2014. 

MIKAYEL MINASYAN
Armenian Ambassador to the Holy See 
"In addition to the writing in Armenian, there was also a phrase in Latin that read, 'This cross has been consecrated.” 

Armenia was the first country to adopt Christianity as its official religion. Often its people were persecuted because of it. So, this piece is about much more than mere devotion.  It's about Christianity, history, faith and perseverance. 

On April 12th, when Pope Francis celebrates a Mass to mark 100 years since the Armenian genocide, part of the journey will come full circle. 

MIKAYEL MINASYAN
Armenian Ambassador to the Holy See 
"This cross was placed in an area where Armenians would stop and pray before the tomb of St. Peter. Now, the Cross is back in Rome, in the Vatican Museums. On April 12th, Armenians will be here again, to honor the martydrom of victims from the Armenian genocide.” 

The stone dates back to 1246 and its displayed in the Pope Urban VII Gallery, just a short distance from the Sistine Chapel. 


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