Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin, Etchmiadzin Cathedral
Believers around the world are eager to visit not only the Vatican but also a small country of Armenia. After all, Armenia was the first country to adopt Christianity as the state religion. The destination of the pilgrims is a town 30 km from Yerevan -Etchmiadzin or Vagharshapat (the city of Vagharsh).
Christians from all over the world come here to pray in the temple which has already become a kind of symbol of the nation – the Etchmiadzin cathedral. This temple is the main temple of the Armenian Apostolic Church, the Throne of the Supreme Patriarch of the Catholicos of All Armenians. According to the legend, the first Armenian Catholicos Gregory the Illuminator saw a dream as if Jesus Christ Himself descended from heaven with a golden hammer in his hands and struck the temple of a pagan temple. In the morning, the Catholicos tells the dream to the King Trdat, who erects a temple in that place and calls it Etchmiadzin – “The only born came down.” It is the meaning of the word.
The temple was first built of wood and then of stone, not far from the royal chambers during the reign of Trdat the Third. Because of the invasions of Persian troops the church was constantly destroyed but over and over again Armenian prominent figures gave money for its restoration.
There is a legend according to which the Persian Shah Abbas intended to destroy Etchmiadzin to the ground and transfer the stones to Iran and build an Armenian temple there to tame the Armenians to a new place. But soon he decided to transfer only “significant stones”: the stone to which Christ came down, the cup for baptism and many others. The church was constantly restored and supplemented by new buildings under the leadership of Armenian Catholicos. In the 16th and 17th centuries a refectory, defensive walls, a bell tower were added. In the 19th century to the east of the temple, the construction of the museum started. Very remarkable is the painting of the temple made by Nagash Ovnatanyan (a famous poet and artist) in 1720, then the painting was restored and supplemented by other members of the family of Ovnatanyans.
The dome of the church depicts scenes from the Old Testament, portraits of Armenian historical figures. The painting is made in orange and blue-tinted colors and it is an outstanding example of Armenian architecture. Of great importance in the interior of the temple are works of applied art: a curtain with embroidery at the main altar, a wooden door with carving brought from Tbilisi. The cathedral of Etchmiadzin is the most important architectural heritage of both the early Middle Ages and the new time. And it is not for nothing that it is listed in UNESCO’s great heritage list.
According to one legend in Armenia, Christianity began to preach the virgin nuns who fled from Rome to Vagharshapat, under the leadership of the main sister Gayane. TheTsar Trdat, fascinated by the beauty of Gayane, wished to marry her, but only on the condition that she abandon the matter she started and become a pagan. The girl refused. For this, the King Trdat killed all 33 sisters. Only after Armenia accepted Christianity, the king, with the support of Grigor Lusavorich, found the relics of the martyrs and reburied them. On the burial grounds and the sisters’ stay, small tombs were built which soon turned into the churches of Saint Gayane, Hripsime and Shohakat.
All these churches of Etchmiadzin are a landmark of the city and its unshakable pride.
The church of Saint Gayane was built in the 7th century by the Catholicos Ezra. Later, other buildings were attached to the church, and it was repeatedly restored. But it has reached us in its original form. In the tomb, the relics of prominent Armenian figures are buried. The church itself is a part of the Etchmiadzin Cathedral and it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
St. Hripsime Church was built by the Catholicos Komitas First outside the city in the 7th century. The church was built there, where the Saint was buried and once there was a tomb built by Grigor and Trdat. Later, the Gavit was attached to the church (a burial vault and a place for prayer), on the Gavit-belfry and in a few years other buildings and a defensive wall were built.
Temple Hripsime refers to a more perfect type of church buildings of medieval Armenia. The temple is internally cross-domed. In its structure, the temple is a unified system and it is distinguished by an earthquake-resistant construction.
Today’s Shohakat church was built in the late 17th century. But excavations show that the temple was built on the site of another 7th-century temple. The architecture of the church is noteworthy because the temple is a type of dome hall, that is, there are no intermediate supports inside the temple, the whole construction is kept in the vaults. The place where the temple was erected was a winery during the time of King Trdat, and it was there that the nuns sisters hid when they fled from Rome.
The city of Etchmiadzin passes everyone its inner peace and harmony which are transmitted either from old buildings or from the general mood of the city and maybe from the spirit of antiquity and history that hovers in the air.