Anyway, by the 300s CE, all of that had been forgotten, and the popular belief was that the Ark was inaccessible and hidden from view. To that end, the Armenian writer passing under the probably fictitious name of Faustus of Byzantium (P’avstos Buzand) presented the first Christian legend of the Ark wood in his History of Armenia 3.10, written sometime in the fifth century CE. It describes the efforts of St. Jacob of Nisibis to find the Ark at some unspecified date between his appointment as Bishop of Nisibis in 309 and his death in 338. If Faustus’ chronology can be trusted (and it often can’t), it would have been in the time of King Xosrov III, who reigned from 330 to 338.
Here is Faustus’s version in my translation, from the French edition of Victor Langolis:
By this time, the great bishop of Mitspin (Nisibis), this admirable old man, tireless in performing works of truth, chosen by God, Jacob by name and Persian in origin, left his city heading toward the mountains of Armenia, which is to say toward the mountain of Sararad, in the territory of the principality of Ayrarat, in the district of Korduk‘. He was a man filled with the graces of Christ and who had the power to do miracles and wonders. Arriving (at this place), he addressed God with the keenest desire to receive the opportunity to see the ark of deliverance built by Noah, which came to rest on this mountain during the flood. Jacob obtained from God all that he asked. As he climbed the stony sides of the inaccessible and arid mountain of Sararad, he and those with him felt thirsty as a result of fatigue. Then the great Jacob bent his knees and prayed before the Lord, and in the place where he laid his head, a spring burst forth in which he and those with him quenched their thirst. To this very day it is still called the “Spring of Jacob.” However it did not reduce his zeal to see the object of his desire, and he never ceased praying to the Lord God.
When he had neared the top of the mountain, exhausted and tired as he was, he fell asleep. Then the angel of God came and said to him: “Jacob! Jacob!” And he responded: “Here I am, Lord.” And the angel said: “The Lord grants your prayer and fulfills your request; that which you find beneath where you lie is the wood of the ark. I brought it for you from there. Now cease your desire to see the ark, for this is the will of the Lord.” Jacob awoke with great joy, worshiping the Lord and thanking him; he saw the board that appeared to have been split by an ax from a larger piece of wood. Having taken it, he turned back with that which had been granted, followed by his companions. […]
While the man of God brought the wood of deliverance, the symbol of the ark built by our father Noah, that eternal symbol of the great punishment inflicted by God on rational beings and those deprived of reason, the inhabitants of the city and the surrounding area came to meet him (Jacob) with joy and boundless elation. When they saw the holy man, they swarmed him as an Apostle of Christ and an angel from heaven; they regarded him as a brave shepherd and as a prophet who had seen God; they kissed the footprints of his tired feet. They eagerly accepted this wood, this graceful gift, which is preserved to this day among them as the visible sign of the ark of the patriarch Noah.
Now here’s a fun fact: About 1,000 years later, the story was still current! Here is the fictitious author Sir John Mandeville reporting the same tale in chapter 16 of his Travels, which I have slightly modernized from the Cotton Manuscript version:
From that city of Erzurum go men to a mountain called Sabissa. And there beside it is another mountain that men call Ararat, but the Jews call it Taneez [or Thano], where Noah’s ship rested, and yet remains upon that mountain. And men may see it from afar in clear weather. And that mountain is fully seven mile high. And some men say that they have seen and touched the ship, and put their fingers in the parts where the Devil went out when Noah said “Benedicite” [i.e., "Bless you."]. But they that say such words say them ignorantly, for a man may not go up the mountain due to the great deal of snow that is always on that mountain both in summer and winter. Thus no man may go up there, and indeed no man ever did, since the time of Noah, save a monk that, by the grace of God, brought one of the planks down, that yet is in the monastery at the foot of the mountain. […] But to go up upon that mountain, this monk had a great desire. And so one day, he went up. And when he was a third of the way up the mountain he was so weary that he could go no further, and so he rested and fell asleep. And when he awoke he found himself lying at the foot of the mountain. And then he prayed devoutly to God that he would allow him to go up. And an angel came to him, and said that he should go up. And so he did. And since that time no other ever has, which is why men should not believe such words.
How’s that for continuity of tradition?