The Gndevank Monastery – Arpa Canyon, Armenia

The Gndevank Monastery – Arpa Canyon, ArmeniaThe Gndevank Monastery is located near the village of Gndevaz in the canyon of the Arpa River, the walls of which were formed of basalt hexagons. Along with the canyon of the Azat river, over which the fortress of Garni stands, the canyon of Arpa is the most beautiful “symphony in stone” in the territory of Armenia.

The road to the monastery goes along the right bank of the river and the bottom of the canyon. This is the so-called “old Jermuk road”. In the past, you could go from the monastery to Jermuk via the road, which is located 8km away from this picturesque place.

The uniqueness of this architectural monument is that it is one of the oldest monasteries that have survived to this day in Armenia.

The construction of the monastery started in 931 at the initiative of Princess Sophia, the wife of Smbat, the Prince of Syunik. The church is surrounded by a fortified wall of fairly large dimensions.

On its territory are the chambers of the abbots, refectory, khachkars, and tombstones of the 10th-13th centuries. Gndevank was one of the cultural centers of medieval Armenia.

The gavit attached to the western wall of the church is one of the oldest preserved structures of its type.

Princess Sophia called Gndevank “a precious stone adorning the ring of the Vayots canyon”. Indeed, the church looks like a diamond in the canyon of the Arpa River.

The first head of the church was the priest Sarkis, while the construction works were led by the artist Yeghishe.

The monastery was named after Supana Gnduni, a pilgrim widely respected in the whole region (Gndevank, “vank” – “monastery”).

The Church of St. Stepanos was built in 931-936. The building was built of clean-cut basalt stones and has a cross-domed structure. Yeghishe decorated the interior of the church with frescoes, including a piece of Jesus’ image preserved on the wall of the altar.

On the dome inside, the symbols of the four evangelists are depicted. Princess Sophia solemnly celebrated the end of construction and left an inscription on the western wall of the church: “Vayots Dzor was a ring without a stone. I built one and put it on the ring like a precious stone.”

In 999, rector Christopher built the western porch of the church. Along the northern wall of the vestibule, there are two rectangular rooms. The Western room was a library. In 1008, for the irrigation of lands belonging to the monastery, a 22km canal was built.

In 1604, Persian Shah Abbas destroyed Gndevank. In 1691, at the initiative of abbot Petros Vardapet, the church and the porch were restored as well as walls with reinforced towers were built around the monastery. Residential buildings were erected near the walls.

In all likelihood, it was during this period that the fresco with the image of Our Lady was applied to the wall of the northern sacristy. This is one of the masterpieces of the Armenian fine arts of the late Middle Ages.

There was stormy cultural, scientific, and educational life in Gndevank. In the porch of the church, there was a school study separated from the main hall by columns.

There are also graves of teachers (vardapets) who received higher education in Armenian universities of the time, which are one of the oldest in the world.

In the yard of Gndevank, there are tombstones and khachkars of the 10th-16th centuries. Many wall inscriptions have been preserved. Also noteworthy is the dining room in the southern part of the complex, which is a large hall with utility rooms and sewerage.

Gndevank is surrounded by the wonderful nature of the canyon, in which the monastery occupies its special place.

by Alexander Bakulin


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