The Etchmiadzin Cathedral

The Etchmiadzin Cathedral

The city of Etchmiadzin (officially Vagharshapat) is located not far from Yerevan. This is a place revered by Armenians from all over the world since the center of the Armenian Apostolic Church is located here.

Etchmiadzin was founded in the first half of the 2nd century AD on the site of the ancient settlement of Vardgesavan. After the destruction of Artashat by the Romans in 163, the city became the political, cultural, and then the religious and educational center of the country.

In 301, Christianity became the state religion of Armenia. According to a legend, the first patriarch of the Armenian Church Gregory the Illuminator in his sleep dreamed how Christ descended from the heaven with a fiery hammer in his hands and indicated a location for the future cathedral. In 303, at a place where an ancient pagan temple had once stood, a church was founded. It was called Etchmiadzin, which in Armenian means “the place of the descent of the Only-begotten”.

With Armenia often losing its statehood, the role of the supreme religious leader of all Armenians, the Catholicos, increasingly grew over the centuries. Therefore, the Etchmiadzin Cathedral, as the most permanent center of spiritual power of the country, has been developed more intensively than other Armenian monasteries.

In the 15th century, an open porch of the main entrance was added to the western part of the church, over which rose a bell tower with lush architectural decorations. At the same time, the inner walls of the cathedral were decorated. The decoration of the cathedral was completed in 1786 by talented artist Hovnatanian.

In addition to ornaments and other decorations, the artist created many scenes on biblical themes, made more than 120 portraits with images of saints and apostles, and restored many old ones. However, during the following years, many of the frescoes would be destroyed.

In the 20th century, a thorough renovation was carried out at the cathedral. The columns and arches supporting the dome were reinforced, and the dome itself was faced with lead. A new altar was built of marble. The floor of the cathedral was paved with marble as well. Murals inside the temple were updated and supplemented.

A rare feature of the cathedral is that in it, besides the main altar in its eastern part, there are three more altars. Two of them are respectively located in the southern and northern areas of the cathedral, and the third is not so much an altar as a holy place. According to a legend, Christ descended on this place in his appearance.

In 1869, premises with a museum were added to the cathedral for the storage of relics and gifts entering the church. The museum now keeps holy relics, church clothes embroidered with gold and pearls, staffs and crosses of Armenian Catholicoi, and numerous ritual objects made of gold, silver, and ivory. Here also are the chairs of the Catholicoi decorated with mother of pearl and ivory along with silver-cast figures.

Etchmiadzin also preserved the oldest examples of the art of the past. It used to safeguard both manuscripts and miniatures which would be transported to Yerevan.

To the left of the entrance of the cathedral is the Etchmiadzin Printing House founded in 1772. To the right are the cells of the monks.

There are many khachkars (cross-stones) in the territory of the monastery. Among them is the Amenaprkich (All-Savior) khachkar (1279), a 17th-century khachkar brought here from the cemetery of Old Jugha, and the recently installed modern khachkar to the victims of the 1915 genocide.

Etchmiadzin is the residence of the Armenian Patriarch, the Catholicos of all Armenians. His palace is located in the courtyard of the monastery. At the entrance to the residence of the Catholicos rise the Gates of Trdat. Although they have been rebuilt many times, their foundations still contain stone blocks dating to the 4th century. It is believed that the palace of the Armenian kings was located on the site of this gate.

In the territory of the monastic complex also is the Ecclesiastical Academy of St. Etchmiadzin. This is the only educational institution in the world of this type. There are a few listeners in it – only 50 people. Among the subjects studied here are logic, rhetoric, psychology, world history, philosophy, and languages. Among languages, Ancient Greek, Russian, English, and Armenian – both classical and modern – are especially carefully studied.

The first Armenian school was opened at the Etchmiadzin Cathedral as well.

Etchmiadzin houses three other ancient monuments-churches. According to a legend, these temples were built in honor of martyrs, the first Christian women who had fled from Rome from the persecution of the emperor. Those churches are Surb Hripsime, Surb Gayane, and Surb Shoghakat.

Everyone Prays at Holy Etchmiadzin


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