The Yererouk basilica is one of the oldest Christian monuments in Armenia that stand to this very day. This structure was added to the UNESCO World Heritage Tentative List on August 25, 1995.
The 4th-5th-century Yererouk basilica lies on the eastern banks of the Araxes River, facing the antique capital city of Ani in Shirak Province of Greater Armenia. In fact, it was made from fine red tuff stone brought from Ani. This basilica occupies a very special spot among other Christian basilicas due to the fact that it is a classic example of such structures. Moreover, it is considered the highest achievement of early Armenian ecclesiastical architectonics, and also contains clues to the very formation of Armenian architecture.
The name “Yererouk” derives from the ancient Armenian tradition of matagh (religious animal sacrifice), which has been retained in the Armenian religious tradition since the pagan times.
Underground passages in the vicinity of the cathedral lead to spacious halls. Those passages have been used as garret windows (“erdiks”), letting sunlight inside the cathedral. An excerpt from Psalms is carved on the cathedral’s southern wall, reading: Holiness becometh thine house, o Lord, for ever.”
During archaeological excavations, a large graveyard has been discovered at the site. The graveyard featured 7 – 8 pedestals, which, as archaeologists say, had been monuments with stone ornaments atop. Further down were discovered older burials. The adults buried there are believed to have been distinguished individuals. Apart from that, excavations uncovered a large number of stillborn graves, which possibly kept victims of certain disasters or plagues. However, other theories link these finds with John the Baptist. Perhaps, people thought that they could bury their stillborn babies, who obviously hadn’t been baptized, here.
The Yererouk basilica has been badly damaged during the 1988 Spitak earthquake. However, we can quite well understand the original state of the basilica thanks to the detailed sketches of Toros Toramanian, a 19th-20th-century Armenian architectural archaeologist. The relatively well-preserved southern portal represents the rich and creative craftsmanship of ancient Armenian masters.
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