Ancient Armenian Traditions of Woodcarving

Ancient Armenian Traditions of Woodcarving

Artistic woodworking is art with millennium-old traditions. It is said that in the country of khachkars, Armenia, the melody of the stone song is heard everywhere. Not only stones sing in Armenia but everything that the hands of true masters have touched. In addition to skilled stonecutters, for centuries, masterpieces have been created by other masters, woodcarvers.

The art of woodcarving is akin to stone sculpture. It is believed that more than a thousand years ago, the best craftsmen have lived in the Van area, exactly where there hasn’t been much wood. The people of Van haven’t used wood in construction or as a material for heating. Instead, they have treated it with care and love, wishing it to be pleasing to the eye. So have appeared wooden ornaments, carved spoons, and other household items.

Over time, the masters began to make wooden doors for temples. The first known such door is a double door with a charming and graceful ornament from the monastery of Surb Arakelots in Mush dated to 1134 and built by masters Toros, Grigor, and Lukas. In the Middle Ages, the monastery was an Armenian cultural center.

During the Ottoman massacres of 1915, the Msho Arakelots Monastery founded by Gregory the Illuminator was destroyed. In 1916, after the retreat of the Turks, famous historian and archaeologist Smbat Ter-Avetisyan discovered the door, which had been taken by the Turks as a trophy, in Bitlis.

Soon, the door was taken to the Tbilisi Museum of the Ethnographic Society of Armenia. Later, in 1925, it was transferred to the History Museum of Yerevan. Thus, a unique sample of medieval Armenian art was saved.

There is another version of the relic’s salvation. After the massacres, Armenian refugees headed to the Russian border and escaped death. Among them was a man who was dragging a huge door on his back, barely moving under its weight.

It turned out that this was the son of the hegumen of the Arakelots Monastery who miraculously managed to save this door. From Ani, a military train brought it to Etchmiadzin, although some claim that the man himself delivered it, having been on the hardest footpath for more than a month.

Today, the door is located in the Yerevan National Historical Museum along with other masterpieces of Armenian masters, including the carved wooden doors and carved capitals of the Surb Arakelots Sevanavank church (made in 1176 and 1486 respectively).

In their homes, villages, and cities, craftsmen also created marvelous examples of woodcarving. Perhaps everyone knows the door of one of the old houses on Abovyan Street in the very center of Yerevan.

Attraction to aesthetics and beauty among Armenians has always been manifested in their everyday life. Spoons, ladles, trays, amulets, cradles, spinning wheels, and many other items were decorated with carvings with floral and geometric patterns.

For example, housewives decorated the traditional gata (Armenian pastry) with a pattern obtained by embossing on a gatanakhsh, a special round wooden board. Each farm had its own gatanakhsh, which served as a sort of family coat of arms.

In the center of Yerevan, on Paronyan Street, there is a wonderful museum of woodcarving. Here, one can get acquainted with the broad manifestation of Armenian national art in wood, whose traditions Armenians try to maintain and revive.

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