- Collection: Comparative Armenian Ecclesiastical Monuments
Aghdzk is in Aragatsotn Province on the southern slopes of Mt. Aragats. It is best known for the Arshakid or Arshakuni Mausoleum, which was a funerary chapel housing the remains of both Pagan and Christian rulers. The mausoleum abuts a fourth or fifth century Christian basilica and ongoing excavations were exploring the area south of the church and tomb complex when the site was visited in August 2017.
Dvin, also sometimes referred to as Duin, was the late antique/early medieval capital of Armenia and today is located in Ararat Province. It is a pivotal location for this research project as it was at the Third Council of Dvin (609-610) that there was a formal parting of the ways between the Armenian and Georgian Churches. This was the culmination of a series of post-Chalcedon debates on the nature(s) of Christ and ultimately ended with the Armenians remaining steadfast in their opposition to the Christological definition promulgated at Chalcedon, whilst the Georgians decided to join with Constantinople in upholding the Chalcedonian definition of orthodoxy. Today there is little sign of the former significance of the site and parts of the ruins have been overtaken by the modern village, however excavations are still ongoing in parts of the ancient site and a significant Islamic complex is currently being uncovered.
The Roman era temple at Garni, Kotayk Province, is believed to date from the first century CE and is the most notable Classical monument in the countries of the former Soviet Union. However, the temple today is the result of a reconstruction that took place in 1969-1975 as the original structure was destroyed in an earthquake in 1679. The site is included here not only because its significance for Classical architecture in the Caucasus in general, but also because the remains of a seventh-century centrally-planned church abut the temple on its western side. There is also a Roman-era bath house complex north west of both the church and the temple. It seems Garni remained significant throughout its history as there is ninth and tenth century Arabic graffiti still visible on the monument and a number of European travellers recorded their impressions of Garni even after its destruction. Today the temple is one of the chief tourist attractions in Armenia as well as being the main cult centre for Armenian Neopaganism also called Hetanism. On the day of the site visit a ritual was being enacted in the cella of the temple and some images of this event are included in this entry.
Geghard monastery is located in Ararat Province and is believed to date back to the fourth century, when a small cave church was excavated from the rock around a spring. It was expanded throughout the middle ages and the monastery today dates from the thirteenth century, with the rebuilding commencing in 1215. The name Geghard refers to the Holy Lance that pierced the side of Christ and appears to have linked to the site from the time of its rebuilding in the thirteenth century. Today the fact that Geghard is a UNESCO World Heritage site relatively close to Garni means that it is a centre of tourism as well as pilgrims. Although there is nothing remaining of the ancient monastery, the site is included here to offer evidence that there was cave monasticism in Armenia, even if it does not appear to have been as widespread a practice as in Georgia.
Holy Cross Church also referred to as Kasagh Basilica is in the town of Aparan, Aragatsotn Province. The church dates to the fourth or fifth century and was restored in 1877, as well as having evidence of more recent renovation. The basilica sits on a two-step platform, so is like Yereruyk and Zvartnots in being placed on a raised base and there is a ruined apsed structure of unclear date to the north of the building suggesting that it may have been linked to a possible side chapel in the past. The apse is a protruding polygonal structure, which is relatively unusual in early South Caucasian basilicas, which appear to most frequently terminate in a flat east end. The decoration above the windows on the south side and also in the apse is of the linear type seen at Yereruyk and also above the south entrance of the church at Tsilkani in Georgia. This Armenian variant is in some ways close to Syrian decorative motifs found on the northwest Limestone Massif, but deviates by only being present directly above and to the side of the windows, whereas in Syria they usually follow in a ribbon along the entire church exterior - see for example the entries on this site for Qalb Lozeh and Qal'at Sem'an.
The church at Odzun in the northern Lori Province of Armenia has been variously dated as between the fifth and seventh centuries, with many sources electing to place it in the sixth century, and was subject to alterations in the eighth century. It has been undergoing a process of renovation since 2012 and these renovations were still ongoing during the site visit in August 2017. The reason for visiting Odzun is that it is a domed basilica of a type that belongs to a small group of monuments recorded in Georgia, Armenia and territories formerly belonging to both nations that now lie in Turkey. Therefore this architectural type is comparable with the church of Tsromi (Georgia), Mren and Bagawan (Turkey) and St. Gayane in Echmiadzin (Armenia). As an aside it also possesses a unique early medieval funerary monument to the north of the church where two stelae are framed by a two-arched arcade in a manner that is reminiscent of some Roman funerary monuments in northwest Syria.
The church of St. Gayane in Echmiadzin (now Vagharshapat) in Armavir Province was built in the seventh century. It is a three-naved domed basilica of the type encountered at Odzun and, as such, is included in the list of churches included in that entry. However, unlike most of the monuments on the list, the prominent location of this church in the Holy See of the Armenian Apostolic Church means that it was renovated in the seventeenth century and has therefore undergone more change than the other buildings of this type.
Katoghike Tsiranavor Church of Avan (Cathedral Church of the Holy Mother of God, Avan) is the oldest church known that falls within the municipal boundaries of contemporary Yerevan. It is located in the Avan district in the east of the city, north of the road leading to Geghard and Garni. The building is a centrally-planned with a quatre-lobed interior, but is square on the outside. It dates to the end of the sixth century and, as with Zvartnots and Yereruyk, it stands on a stepped platform - although in this case there are only 2 steps. The church was later renamed Surb Hovhannes (St. John) and today is a ruin missing the upper portion of the building with only one of the 4 smaller linking conches that joined the 4 main lobes of the building still extant. The site is concealed down a narrow alleyway and stands on a small patch of waste ground surrounded by domestic buildings and a small auto repair business making it exceedingly difficult to find.
The basilica of Yereruyk is located in the village of Anipemza in Shirak Province in Armenia, right by the border with Turkey. It is believed to date to the fourth and fifth centuries and is one of the earliest Christian monuments in the country. Since the nineteenth century frequent comparisons have been drawn between this site and basilicas in Syria based largely on floor plans and a few images. However there is little more contemporary literature that explores this analogy in any detail and this question is considered on this site in the article entitled The Missing Link? Preliminary Fieldwork in Armenia.
Zvartnots is a centrally-planned cathedral in Armavir Province that was built in the seventh century by Catholicos Nerses III. Today it is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site and it remains one of the most significant early Christian monuments in Armenia. From the early twentieth century onwards it has been explored in archaeological excavations and a number of archaeologists, art historians and architects have attempted to reconstruct the original form of the building from the extant architectural details. This website is not the place to rehearse the various arguments relating to the site, but a clear and convincing summary of this history and an up-to-date interpretation of the material is offered by Christina Maranci in Vigilant Powers: Three Churches of Early Medieval Armenia, Brepols; Turnhout, 2015. This entry is obviously not the place to detail this complex historiographical tradition, but it is hoped that specialists and non-specialists alike may find some of the attached images useful and/or interesting.