Legends of Tatev Monastery

Legends of Tatev Monastery

Tatev Monastery (built in 906) was one of the main spiritual, political, and cultural centers of medieval Armenia. During its existence, it has served as a fortress, the residence of the metropolitan, and a university.

For 1108 years, the monastery has crowned the triangular plateau near the village of Tatev in the province of Syunik. Many legends have been formed in those years. Below are just some of them.

1) The wings

Having completed the Tatev Monastery project, its master builder asked the workers crowding below to bring him 2 wood chips. He took them, kissed, and said: “Ogni, surb, ta tev” (“Help, Holy Spirit, give wings”).

Immediately, wings grew on the master’s back, and he flew away. The monastery was called “Tatev” in honor of the master whose request “Ogni, surb, ta tev” was heard by God.

2) Pride

The master and the clergyman once argued who would be the first to lay down a water pipe to the monastery. A few days later, the priest noticed that the master was about to finish the job and decided to do one trick.

He draped the area not yet covered with water with a long white cloth so that from a distance, the cloth swayed by the wind looked like a waterfall.

The trick worked – the master, laying the last stone, looked around and saw the water flowing down in the distance. Not wishing to accept his loss, he rushed down from the cliff and died. The creek was later called the Priest Creek.

3) Water

Since ancient times, the snake was considered the patroness of the hearth in Syunik. Armenians sacredly believed that happiness and peace would forever leave the house of the one who killed a snake.

According to a tradition, when collecting river water, the locals unknowingly scooped a venomous snake into one of the jugs. This was seen by a raven who had settled in the monastery. It threw himself into the jug and pecked at the snake which managed to sting the bird before its death. The monks would bury the raven near the monastery walls as gratitude.

4) The swinging column

Not far from the southern wall of the church of St. Gregory stands an 8 meters tall pedestal called “gavazan” (“staff”). It is crowned with a cross-stone – a khachkar.

The ingenious architect of antiquity managed to create a swinging stele. A push can set the column in motion. For centuries, the mystery of this peculiar seismograph which warned monks about ripening cataclysms and upcoming enemy attacks remained unknown.

The Arabs who captured Tatev in the 10th century decided to destroy the gavazan, but it survived.

The Arabs attempted to bring the column down with 10 pairs of buffalo. But the chains broke and the buffaloes collapsed into the abyss. Deciding that it was a sign from above, the invaders left the monastery without again attempting to destroy the stele. The gavazan also survived the devastating earthquake of 1931, whereas the temple, the church of St. Grigor Lusavorich, the porch, and the belfry collapsed.

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