Lmbatavank (Monastery of Lmbat), officially Church of Saint Stepanos, is located southwest of the town of Artik in Shirak Province, Armenia. While there are no accounts mentioning when the church was built, archaeological analysis demonstrated that it was established in the 6th-7th centuries.
Built from smoothly hewn tuff, this church is an example of the cross-in-square architectural style with an 8-edge dome. Among the most remarkable architectural elements of the church are the main altar with no windows, southern and northern wings with rectangular layout, and the arches. An inscription on the wall of the church reads that its dome was renovated in the 10th century.
Possibly the most valuable artifact of Lmbatavank is the fragments of unique frescos, which are one of the most distinctive exemplars of Armenian monumental pictorial art. One of them portrays the Biblical motif “Ascension”, which Armenian craftsmen treated as the solemn Epiphany. The base of this idea is the Book of Ezekiel.
In the middle of the composition is Jesus Christ surrounded by the symbols of the heavenly powers with spurts of flame in the background. The upper section of the fresco features the pedestal of Jesus’ throne ornamented by pearls. On both sides of the altar are portrayed horsemen heading towards the center – Saint Sargis and Saint Gevorg. Remarkably, there are no images of evil spirits coming from under the horses’ hooves.
This particular fresco, unfortunately, hasn’t made it to our days in one piece. It is suggested that the lower section depicted the 12 Apostles and the Mother of God.
In the late Middle Ages, Lmbatavank was abandoned. During archaeological excavations at the site of the church in 1954, pedestals of khachkars (cross-stones), 9th-10th-century graves, and fragments of tile, which had been initially used in the construction of the roof, were discovered. In 1955, walls, the roof, and the dome of the church were renovated.
Artik-Արթիկի Ս. Ստեփանոս Նախավկայի եկեղեցի (Լմբատավանք)