© Arthur Hagopian 2017
every tile has a tale to tell
  0ne thousand and three hundred years ago, an obscure Armenian priest knelt by the entrance to his cell, in a sprawling convent outside the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem, and composed a humble plea.      The words he used were simple, but there was nothing unpretentious in the medium he chose to convey his message: a magnificent floor mosaic of five variously colored concentric circles, measuring eight feet by 10 and studded with pert red petals.      Within the protective embrace of the smallest circle, he inscribed these memorable lines: "I, Yevsdat ( Eustacius) the priest, laid down this mosaic. You who enter this room, remember me and my brother Ghugas (Lucas), unto Christ."      Centuries passed, and Jerusalem fell under the sway of an assortment of overlords who took a perverse delight in leveling the city.      In the process, Yevsdat's prayer collapsed under the rubble of what archaeologists concluded must have been the first Armenian monastery to be built in the Holy Land.      Had it not been for a fortuitous accident, the site might have been consigned to oblivion, and the Armenian nation lost one of its most precious relics, of which there are known to be only six others in the world.      In November 1991, laborers excavating for a new highway stumbled upon the "medallion," lying across the road from the beautiful Armenian bird mosaic in the Musrara Quarter of Jerusalem unearthed a century ago. Their picks and shovels stirred up not only the dust of centuries, but also relics of a people steeped in Christian history, lore and endurance.      Among the other finds on the site were three other Armenian inscriptions, two tombstones, and one graffito on a large pottery bowl.      These join a number of other significant Armenian inscriptions recently found in the Holy Land, the most interesting of which are graffiti from Nazareth and the Sinai, which date from the first part of the fifth century, that is within decades of the invention of the alphabet, according to noted Armenologist, Prof Michael Stone.      He views the new mosaic inscription as particularly important for the light it throws on the series of mosaics bearing Armenian inscriptions discovered in Jerusalem from 1873 to the early twentieth century.      The Yevsdat inscription, written in impeccable Classical Armenian, has been virtually completely preserved. The two names mentioned in the mosaic are clearly Armenians form of their Greek counterparts.      Stone points out that even the full form "Eustathius" is very rare in Armenian usage. "No form of this name occurs in the manuscript colophons down to 1200 (Mat‘evosyan 1988), or in the indexes of proper names in the catalogues of the Mashdots Madenataran, Institute of Ancient Manuscripts in Erevan, Armenia and of the Patriarchal library in Jerusalem.      "From the fact that both names are Greek and Christian, it is perhaps possible to infer that both brothers were clerics, for it was the customary for clerics to take biblical names, or those of saints of the Church," he adds.      "The mosaic was uncovered in a carefully executed excavation and can be dated, on archeological grounds, to the second half of the seventh century, which is extremely important," Stone says.      "This date is established by coins discovered embedded in the mortar in which the floor was laid. In the mortar five coins were found, the earliest of which is of the fourth century and the latest is a Byzanto-Arab coin of the middle of the seventh century."      Stone believes the last coin is the most important since it provides a terminus post quem for the laying of the mosaic floor with the inscription.      Based on these considerations, he sees that a "date in the seventh century is reasonable for the new inscription." ----