St. Vartan Cathedral – The First Armenian Cathedral in North America

St. Vartan CathedralThe Cathedral of St. Vartan is the first cathedral of the Armenian Apostolic Church in North America. Built in 1969, it has been designed to resemble ancient Armenian temples.

The construction of the cathedral had been conceived back in 1926 when the young Armenian community of New York raised 100 thousand dollars. Three years later, the collapse of the stock market forced the project to stop.

The Armenian community got back to this idea only in 1942 when Archbishop Garegin I Hovsepyan addressed the Diocesan Assembly with an appeal. “Our diocese,” he said, “has neither a cathedral, nor a diocesan house, nor a national library. It’s time to meet those needs.”

By the end of the 1940s, fundraising had gained momentum — many people organized charity dinners, bazaars, and other charity events. Parishioners throughout the diocese enthusiastically donated money to the construction fund. The common goal united the diaspora even more.

The site for the construction of the complex was chosen near the former Armenian quarter between the 34th and 35th streets. First were built a diocesan house and a cultural center. And in 1968, Vazgen I, the Catholicos of all Armenians, consecrated the new church.

The Cathedral was dedicated to St. Vartan, the commander who in the 5th century fought against the Persian king for the right of the Armenian people to profess Christianity.

The cathedral was modeled on the church of St. Hripsime in Etchmiadzin with the essential features of the Armenian church architecture, such as double intersecting arches and a pyramidal dome. The dome was covered with gold leaf and the walls of the temple were decorated with limestone.

Before the entrance to the cathedral, there is a spacious square, and above the door is a relief image of St. Vartan. The interior is traditionally simple. The inner dome is ornamented in with blue-brown images of Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, and various symbols of the Eucharist, the Church, love, and resurrection.

The narrow windows with stained glass present scenes from the life of Christ and episodes from the Book of Genesis, including the appearance of Noah’s ark on Mount Ararat. The church’s lamps seem modern – in reality, they were made in the 7th century. Stone crosses in the cathedral date back to the 15th century and were found in Armenia on the ruins of an ancient church.


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