Geghard Monastery

The Monastery of Geghard was founded right after the Great Armenian Conversion – in 301 by St. Gregory the Illuminator. It is famous for its original and rare architectural compound.

Two intagliated churches dug in a huge cliff, vestibule, big graveyard chapel, monastic cells and chapels which by joining harmoniously another vestibule and church in the south side form a worship complex not yielding to the similar world structures.

Above the balustrade stairs in the east side of the church there is a cave in the frontal part of which, as a true evidence for the coming generations, one may see the following words carved in a stone: “Saint Gregory Armenian the Illuminator”.

The nowadays ancient worship structure is the three-floor half-intagliated St. Astvatsatsin Church built by the generation of the Zakarians in 1164. It is located in the west part near the central entrance.  In the middle of the altar is the portrait of Astvatsatsin with child Christ in her arms, two angels on both sides.

Тhe main church – Catoghike – was built in 1215. With its spatial-dimensional composition it represents a well-known example of 12th-13th–century Armenian cross-shaped cupola structure.The plan is rectangular from the outside, with two-floor vestries in all four corners, which were foreseen for sovereigns and duchesses. The eastern and southern walls are furrowed with a couple of Armenian apertures, which are of anti-seismic significance.

Catoghike is rich in embellishments, particularly the dome drum and the southern entrance, in the front part of which one may see a remarkable has a remarkable high relief which illustrates attack of а lion on a bull. Perhaps it is the symbol of the family of the Zakarians.

In 1215-25’s adjacent to the west part of Catoghike a center-formed, four-columned, stalactite-cultivated domed vestibule was erected. With its appearance it resembles civic structures and reminds Armenian mountainous village homes. In the north-eastern and south-eastern corners it has two-floor vestries, the second floor of the left-side vestry dedicated to Apostle St. Thaddeus. From the inscriptions we learn not only the names of builders but also those of benefactors and monks who took part in the construction.

Serving as northern wall for Catoghike and its vestibule – the giant rock is sculptured in equivalence to elevated architecture decorations and interiors. From under the northern wall flows out sacred and healing cold spring, on the eastern side of which a cell is curved (with a small window to the altar), and in the western side – a basin meant for baptism. Overlooking north-west from the altar near the basin full of mountain springs, the decision room is visible where the chalice (i.e. the cup in which the bread and the wine – «the body and the blood of God» – were blessed used during Holy Liturgy is being kept.

 For the Armenian medieval monasteries characteristic is a group of churches, but in the Armenian church-architecture of singular phenomenon is the three-floor worship complex consisting of two stone-curved churches, vestibule, chapel, cells, shrines and dwelling (symbolizing the six-winged angel), this complex in its turn joining the vestibule and church Catoghike in the northern side. With its architectural structure – the three-altar religious construction – it is a masterpiece not yielding to the other suchlike churches in all-Christian church-architecture.

 

This religious complex together with the three-floor St. Astvatsatsin church has been called Monastery of Seven Churches by people and consists of forty chapels and liturgy altars.

From the 13th century on, in the chronicle and oral speech Ayrivank was gradually renamed Geghardavank in honor of one of the greatest shrines of Armenian Church kept here from the same century.

St. Geghard is the lance of the spear with which the roman soldier nailed Jesus Christ on the cross. This feeble 15-cm-long iron lance was brought to Armenia by Apostle St. Taddeus.

In Armenia and neighbor churches for many-many times with this miraculous lance people were blessed, freed from disaster and epidemics. Till today the Armenian patriarchs bless the incense with the right of St. Gregory the Illuminator and St. Geghard. In the 18th century St. Geghard and the relic of Noah’s ark kept in this monastery were taken to St. Echmiadzin and are kept in the museum of Mayr Ator till today.

The monastery is also known as one of the important religious-cultural and educational centers of medieval Armenia. It had a spiritual seminary, a library and a rich storehouse of ancient manuscripts (Matenadaran). In Matenadaran aft. Mesrop Mashtots, as well as in Paris National Library and Berlin Royal library one may find manuscripts, autographs, including gospels, psalms, manuscript collections of selected articles, Books of Needs, collections of Armenian religious songs, etc., which have been formed, developed, written and copied in Geghard Monastery.

During centuries passed many towns and villages of Armenia had been destroyed and razed to the ground by enemy troops, but Geghard stays as a symbol of the Greatest Victory, as incarnation of the creative gift and spirit of Armenian people.

 Another attraction of the surrounding area is the gorge of Azat river, called gorge of Garni. The gorge of Garni stretches along the Azat (Garni) river and its confluent named Goght. It is remarkable for its beautiful, seemingly artificial rocks, which are formed of regular hexagon arbors. The latter stretch from valley bottom till the top of the gorge and are glorified as “Stone Symphony”.The Azat River is the left confluent of the Araks River. The length of the Azat River is 55km, and the pool is 572km². It begins from the south-western slope of Geghama Mountain Range and crosses through Khosrov forest. The part flowing through the reserve is also known as the Mil River. Near the Garni village joining the confluent Goght of the Azat River enters the gorge of Garni. That section of the gorge is called also the gorge of the Azat River. In the lowest flow the river comes out to Ararat valley. It has a big fall and a rocky stream. The river is basically lives on underground waters. It overflows in April – June. On downpour days one may clearly hear how the waters tear stones from the ground and hit them to each other. 

 

In 2000 Geghard monastery and Upper Azat valley were included in the UNESCO World Heritage list. 

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