Religion and ChurchesРелигия и церквиReligion und Kirchen

Holy See Mother Echmiadzin Monastery

The Armenian Apostolic Church is considered one of the most ancient Christian churches in the world.  Christianity was born here yet in the 2nd – 3rd centuries.  In 301 Armenia became the first country in the world to adopt Christianity as its official religion.  The forefathers of Christianity in Armenia were Apostles Thaddeus and Bartholomew (1st century), who accepted a martyr death.  However, the most important role in adoption of Christianity in Armenia belongs to Gregory the Illuminator. In his honor Armenian Church received its other name that can often be found in literature: “Gregorian” or “Armenian Gregorian”.  This conditional name has been in use since 1836.  Thanks to the sermons of Gregory the Illuminator, Armenian king Trdat (287-330 A.D.) and his family were the first to be baptized, after which Christianity was announced as the official religion of the country. In 301 Armenia became the first country in the world to adopt Christianity as the official religion.

According to the legend, Saint Gregory had a vision of Christ pointing with a gold hammer at a place where the first Armenian Church was to be built.  The temple built in that place became the Cathedral and was called Echmiadzin, which means “Came down the Only Son”, i.e. Jesus Christ.  At the initiative of Saint Gregory, other Christian churches, basilicas, and prayer houses were built in Armenia as well.  They were being built on pagan temple foundations. Sometimes even former pagan temples were transformed into Christian churches.

Many travelers come to Armenia specifically to visit monuments of religious architecture.  It is impossible to list all of the noteworthy churches and monasteries.  In this section we will describe only a few most famous ones.

St. Hripsime Church in Echmiadzin
Noravank Monastery
Odzun Monastery in Lori Region

Noravank Monastery is located on the ledge of the gorge of river Gnishik, south-east of Yerevan.  Armenia’s largest cultural and religious center in 12th-14th centuries, it is still considered to be one of the most famous and interesting medieval monuments.  One of the two churches with the same name Surb Karapet is unfortunately preserved only in ruins; the other one was built almost three centuries later, north of its antecedent and is currently the main church of the monastery.

Gndevank Monastery, built in the 10th century, which is by right called “a symphony in stone” in Armenia, is located in the canyon of river Arpa.  An “old Jermuk road” leads to the monastery through the bottom of the canyon.  Using that road is dangerous without an experienced guide.  The main temple of the monastery represents a cross-domed construction dated 936 A.D., and the monastery itself is surrounded by a fortress wall. 

Gandzasar Monastery, the most comfortable among Artsakh monasteries and the only functioning one, is located on the left bank of river Khachen.  The main church, built in 1216-1238, is dedicated to Hovhannes Mkrtich.  The monastery, which was founded in the 10th century, served as a cultural and spiritual center for many centuries, and is presently considered as the “realization of the best achievements of 13th century’s Armenian architects”.

Not far away from Ayrivank village, on the coast of Lake Sevan, a little four-apse church with the same name can be found.  It is also noteworthy for travelers.  Very close to the church one can see ruins of a monastery compound.

Echmiadzin is the central Cathedral of the Armenian Apostolic Church, worshiped by Armenians all over the world.  It was built in 303 in the place of an old pagan temple.  The former name of the city is Vagharshapat.  Echmiadzin was and is the center of religious power of the country.  Along the whole history of its existence, it has been destroyed many times, but always reconstructed and renovated. 

Holy See Mother Echmiadzin
Entrance of Holy See Mother Echmiadzin
Treasury of Holy See Mother Echmiadzin

Echmiadzin is located 20 km west of Yerevan. The first city in the place of Vardgesavan settlement (6th century B.C.) was founded in 117, by king Vagharshak.  In the past centuries, the temple was rebuilt several times.  Originally built as a basilica, the church was rebuilt in 483:  it acquired a cross form, crowned by a dome.  The church is surrounded by a monastery complex, which includes the Theological Academy, the Residency of the Catholicos, the Synod, the library, the book depository, museums and cells.  Most of the buildings were built in the 17th-19th centuries.  In the 20th century the complex was thoroughly restored.

A rare peculiarity of the temple is the fact that besides the main one, there are three other altars, one of which is a holy place, since it is the place where, according to the legend, Jesus came down in his vision to Gregory.

Khachkar (Cross Stone) at Holy See Mother Echmiadzin
Khachkar (Cross Stone) at Holy See Mother Echmiadzin
Inside the Holy See Mother Echmiadzin

In 1869, storage facilities for relics and gifts were added on to the temple.  Today those facilities are turned into museums where holy relics, clothes, crosiers, crosses and chairs of Catholocos, and ritual objects are exhibited.  On the territory of Echmiadzin one can see a lot of “khachkars” – cross-stones, which were installed on all remarkable occasions, but most often as gravestones.

Three other ancient monuments are noteworthy in Echmiadzin: temples built in the memory of the first Christian martyr women that fled from Rome, from the persecution of the Roman Emperor.  These are the Temples of Saint Hripsime (618), Saint Gayane (630), and Saint Shoghakat (1694).