by ANDREW KAYAIAN
The Zohrab Information Center is delighted to present a fascinating new addition to its vast and growing collection: Innocents Return Abroad, Volume II: Exploring Ancient Sites in Eastern Turkey by Jack Tucker. A succinct work of scholarship, Innocents Return Abroad is a traveler’s guidebook to the many ancient ruins and sites in Eastern Turkey. In a welcome innovation, the author provides exact GPS coordinates for each of the sites described. This geographic information allows pilgrims, tourists and scholars to find these largely forgotten and unmarked sites. That, in turn, will foster study and conservation of these precious monuments, the author anticipates.
To aid the reader in journeying through the vast expanses of Eastern Turkey, the book is divided into nine “broadly defined regions:” Galatia, Pontus, Cappadocia, Commagene, Cilicia, Antiochia, Osrhoene, Tur Abdin, and Armenia Minor. In addition to geographic coordinates, the author provides encyclopedic explications on the ancient sites that pepper each region.
A primary purpose of the book is to show how the three Abrahamic religions share a common geographic heritage. This goal is expertly realized. In fact, the intermingling of pre-Abrahamic religions is also inevitable. Because so many peoples occupied this territory, the archaeological gems that they left behind betray the legacies of many of them. All of the sites contribute to a more global/cosmopolitan comprehension of the history, culture, art, and theology of this corner of the world. As Mr. Tucker puts it, “this guidebook describes the sites, historical anecdotes, and mythological stories needed to understand and appreciate these remarkable places” (1-2).
The last chapter is dedicated to Armenia Minor and features much fascinating information. A perfect example is the 7th-century Armenian Cathedral of Mren and the story of the recapture of the True Cross of Christ by Byzantine Emperor Heraclius. Heraclius was himself a Christian Armenian born in Armenia Minor in the 6th century, who came to power in 610. Four years into his reign, the True Cross of Christ was stolen from Jerusalem by the Zoroastrian Persians. With great “religious fervor” (210) Heraclius launched a bold military campaign to regain the True Cross, which he did in 627. The emperor personally restored the Cross to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in 630. A testament to this one Armenian’s victory in Christ’s name is the grand cathedral in the once populous medieval city of Mren. The conclusion of this Christian triumph, depicting Heraclius in Jerusalem, symbolized by a tree, with the Cross, is recorded in bas-relief on the north portal lintel. Additional decorations on the rectangular cruciform, triple-nave domed cathedral include sculptural reliefs of Jesus Christ, several apostles, Daniel and the lions, the winged Archangels Michael and Gabriel, and several prominent clergymen. This one monument reflects significant history, Armenian patriotism, piety and theology, all of which is ingrained into a magnificent architectural and artistic edifice.
In a recent visit to the Zohrab Information Center, Mr. Tucker spoke avidly of his travels through ancient Armenia. “The Armenian Cathederal of Mren is a precious historic and artistic monument, yet it is largely unknown to Armenians.” He continued, “The edifice and its priceless bas-reliefs are open to the elements and are in danger of decay and destruction. Armenians must lead the way in preserving these monuments of their history and culture.”
Professor Christina Maranci of Tufts University has published an important study on the bas-reliefs of Mren entitled, “The Humble Heraclius: Revisiting the North Portal at Mren,” in Revue des études arméniennes 31 (2009) 167-180. Contact the Zohrab Center for further information.
This fine volume is required reading for the Pious Pilgrim, the Avid Art Historian, the Ecclesiastical Enthusiast, or simply the Global Traveler. Like the Zohrab Information Center that houses it, Innocents Return Abroad, Volume II is a reservoir of hidden treasures from a little known but profoundly rich region of the world.
ANDREW KAYAIAN is a sophomore at Fordham University in New York majoring in history and theology. He is a Zohrab Center intern for the 2013-2014 year.