|Location||Vagharshapat, Armavir Province, Armenia|
|Affiliation||Armenian Apostolic Church|
|Leadership||Catholicos of All Armenians|
|Founder||Gregory the Illuminator|
|Length||29 metres (95 ft)|
|Width||23 metres (75 ft)|
|Height (max)||27 metres (89 ft) (belfry; the dome is taller)|
|Official name: Cathedral and Churches of Echmiatsin and the Archaeological Site of Zvartnots|
|Designated:||2000 (24th session)|
The Etchmiadzin Cathedral (Armenian: Էջմիածնի Մայր Տաճար Ēǰmiatsni Mayr Tačar) is the Mother Church of the Armenian Apostolic Church and the central building of the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin. The cathedral was the first church to be built in Armenia, and is considered the oldest cathedral in the world.
The original church is believed to have been built between 301 and 303 by Armenia's patron saint Gregory the Illuminator, following the adoption of Christianity as a state religion by King Tiridates III. It was later seriously damaged and almost completely rebuilt in its current form in 483 by Vahan Mamikonian. Etchmiadzin was the seat of the Catholicos, head of the Armenian Church, until 484. Subsequently, it suffered almost a millennium of neglect until 1441, when it was restored as catholicosate and remains as such to this day. The cathedral was damaged in the early 17th century, and has been constantly renovated since then. Major additions were made by various catholicoi throughout the 17th–19th centuries. Diminished during the early Soviet period, Etchmiadzin revived again in the second half of the 20th century and under independent Armenia since 1991.
As the religious center of Armenians, Etchmiadzin has been one of the most important locations in Armenia since its foundation. The cathedral complex is called the "Armenian Vatican" for its significance. Along with several important churches located nearby, the Etchmiadzin Cathedral was listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2000.
The name Etchmiadzin is "possibly dating no earlier than the 15th century", while earlier sources (Ghazar Parpetsi, Anania Shirakatsi) call it Katoghike (Կաթողիկէ "cathedral"). The name of the cathedral is also spelled Echmiadzin, Ejmiatsin, Echmiatsin, Etchmiatsin, Edjmiatsin, Edjmiadsin, Ejmiadzin, etc. Unique spellings include "Ecs-miazin" by Jean Chardin, "Etchmiadzine" by John Mason Neale, "Aitchmiadzin" by William Saroyan. It has formerly sometimes been referred to as a monastery.
The cathedral is believed to have been built near the royal palace in the Armenian capital city of Vagharshapat between 301 and 303. According to the tradition, the Kingdom of Armenia under Tiridates III became the first country in the world to adopt Christianity as a state religion in 301.[a] According to History of the Armenians by Agathangelos (c. 460), Armenia's patron saint Gregory the Illuminator had a vision of Jesus Christ descending from heaven and striking the earth with a golden hammer to show where the cathedral should be built. Hence, the patriarch gave the church the name of Etchmiadzin (էջ etch "descent" + մի mi "only" + ծին dzin "begotten"), which translates to "the Descent of the Only-Begotten [Son of God]." Since the late 19th century, a number of authors have cited Etchmiadzin as the oldest cathedral (and less commonly the oldest monastery) in the world.
by Alexander Sahinian (1966)
According to Toros Toramanian, the original church was a tetraconch, similar to the basilicas of Tekor, Ashtarak and Kasakh (Aparan). Archaeological excavations took place in and around the cathedral in the 1950s. During these excavations, remains of the 4th-century building (including "mosaics and frescoes, antique motifs carved on the earlier cornices") and remains of older non-Christian buildings were found underneath the cathedral. Based on these findings, it was asserted that the original church was a vaulted basilica.
Besides the fragments of the original basilica, an "Urartian stele and the pyre of a fire temple under the altar of the east apse" were found. The temple was, possibly, of Sandaramet, an archangel in the Zoroastrian-influenced Armenian mythology.
Damage, reconstruction and decline
According to Faustus of Byzantium, the cathedral and the city of Vagharshapat were almost completely destroyed during the invasion of Persian King Shapur II around 363. Etchmiadzin was partially renovated by Catholicoi Nerses the Great (353–373) and Sahak Parthev (387–439). In 387, the Kingdom of Armenia was partitioned between the Byzantine Empire and the Sasanian Empire. The eastern part of Armenia where Etchmiadzin was located remained under the rule of Armenian vassal kings subject to Persia until 428.
According to Ghazar Parpetsi, the cathedral was rebuilt from the foundations by marzban (governor) of Persian Armenia Vahan Mamikonian in 483, when the country was relatively stable. Historians have concluded that, thus, the basilica was converted into cruciform church and took its current form. The new church was very different from the original one and "consisted of quadric-apsidal hall built of dull, grey stone containing four free-standing cross-shaped pillars disdained to support a stone cupola." The new cathedral was "in the form of a square enclosing a Greek cross and contains two chapels, one on either side of the east apse." The design of the new church was a mixture of the design of a Zoroastrian fire temple and a mausoleum of classical antiquity.
Although the seat of the Catholicos was transferred to Dvin in 484, the cathedral did not immediately lose it significance. In 618, according to Sebeos, Catholicos Komitas renovated the cathedral, replacing the wooden dome by one of stone. Catholicos Nerses III (640–661) also renovated the cathedral. Subsequently, there is no evidence of any renovation between the 7th century and 15th centuries. The cathedral's "condition deteriorated so badly that it moved" the prominent Armenian archbishop Stepanos Orbelian to write one of his most notable poems, "Lament on Behalf of the Cathedral" («Ողբ ի դիմաց Կաթողիկէին») in 1300.[b] In the poem, which tells about the consequences of the Mongol and Mamluk invasions of Armenia and Cilicia, Orbelian portrays the Etchmiadzin Cathedral "as a woman in mourning, contemplating her former splendor and exhorting her children to return to their homeland [...] and restore its glory."
Rebirth and renovations
In 1441, the catholicosate (the seat of the Catholicos) returned to Etchmiadzin, which was under Kara Koyunlu control at the time. Before returning to Etchmiadzin, the catholicosate was located in Sis, the capital of Cilician Armenia, the last independent Armenian kingdom that fell in 1375. The cathedral was restored by Catholicos Kirakos (Cyriacus) between 1441 and 1443. In 1502, Safavid Iran occupied Etchmiadzin and gave the head of the Armenian Church some privileges.
During the 16th and 17th centuries, Armenia suffered from its location between Safavid Persia and Ottoman Turkey, and the conflicts between those two empires. Thus Etchmiadzin was plundered by Shah Abbas I of Persia in 1604, and up to 350,000 Eastern Armenians were forced into Persia by Abbas as part of the scorched earth policy during the war with the Ottoman Empire. Abbas wanted to "dispel Armenian hopes of returning to their homeland", so he "planned to dismantle their main church, stone by stone, and have it carried to Isfahan". In the event, only some important stones, the altar, the stone where Jesus Christ descended according to tradition and relics, including the Right Hand of Gregory the Illuminator, were moved to New Julfa, Isfahan in central Iran. There they were used to build the local Armenian Vank Cathedral.
Since 1627, the Etchmiadzin cathedral underwent major renovation and expansion by Catholicos Movses (Moses). He repaired the dome, ceiling, roof, foundations and paving. Additionally, a wall was built around the cathedral, making it a fort-like complex. Movses also built cells for monks, a guesthouse and other structures around the cathedral. The renovation works were interrupted by the Ottoman-Safavid War of 1635–1636, during which the cathedral remained "intact."
The renovations resumed under Catholicos Pilippos (1632–1655), who built new cells for monks and renovated the roof. During this century, belfries were added to many Armenian churches. In 1654, he started the construction of the belfry in the western wing of the Etchmiadzin Cathedral. It was completed in 1658 by Catholicos Hakob (James IV) Jugayetsi. Decades later, in 1682, Catholicos Yeghiazar constructed smaller bell towers with red tufa turrets on the southern, eastern, and northern wings.
The renovations of Etchmiadzin continued during the 18th century. In 1720, Catholicos Astvatsatur and then in 1777 and 1783 Simeon I of Yerevan took actions in preserving the cathedral. In 1770, Simeon I established a publishing house Etchmiadzin, the first in Armenia. Catholikos Ghukas (Lukas) continued the renovations in 1784 and 1786.
In 1828, the Persian-controlled parts of Armenia, including Etchmiadzin and much of the territory of the Republic of Armenia (also known as Eastern Armenia), were annexed by the Russian Empire by the Treaty of Turkmenchay. The Etchmiadzin Cathedral prospered under Russian rule, despite the suspicions that the Imperial Russian government had about Etchmiadzin becoming a "possible center of the Armenian nationalist sentiment." Etchmiadzin became the center of the Armenians living within the Russian Empire following the 1836 statute (polozhenie).
In 1868, Catholicos Gevorg (George) IV added the sacristy (museum) to the east end of the cathedral. In 1874, Catholicos Gevorg IV established the Gevorgian Seminary near Etchmiadzin. Catholicos Markar I undertook the restoration of the interior of the cathedral in 1888. In 1903, the Russian government issued an edict to confiscate the properties of the Armenian Church, including the treasures of Etchmiadzin. Due to the great opposition of the Armenians and the personal defiance of Catholicos Mkrtich Khrimian, the edict was canceled in 1905.
During the Armenian Genocide, the cathedral of Etchmiadzin and its surrounding became a major center for the Turkish Armenian refugees. At the end of 1918, there were about 70,000 refugees in the Etchmiadzin district. The Armenian Near East Relief "maintained a hospital and an orphanage within its grounds" as of 1919. After two years of independence, Armenia was Sovietized in the late 1920. During the 1920s and 1930s, the Armenian Church was persecuted by the Soviet state. In 1921, Toros Toramanian and Alexander Tamanian worked on the collapsed southern apse by replacing it with a "conical structure."
Surviving Stalin's Great Purge, Etchmiadzin slowly recovered under Catholicos Gevorg VI. Wealthy diaspora Armenian benefactors, such as Calouste Gulbenkian and Alex Manoogian, financially assisted the renovation of the cathedral. Etchmiadzin revived under Catholicos Vasken I since the mid-1950s. Archaeological excavations were held in 1955–1956 and in 1959; the cathedral underwent a major renovation during this period. Etchmiadzin underwent a renovation prior to the celebrations of the 1700th anniversary of the Christianization of Armenia in 2001. In 2002, the Government of Armenia created the list of historical and cultural monuments of the Armavir Province and included the Etchmiadzin Cathedral complex with over 50 monuments, including khachars and graves located around the cathedral.
According to Alexander Sahinian, the cathedral holds a unique position because it reproduces the features of different periods of the Armenian architecture. Despite the fact that the Etchmiadzin Cathedral was renovated and many times through the centuries, it retains the form of the building constructed in 483. The 5th-century building is the core of the cathedral, while the stone cupola, turrets, belfry, and rear extension are all later additions. Today, the Etchmiadzin Cathedral "has a cruciform plan with a central cupola, four free-standing piers, and four projecting apses which are semicircular on the interior and polygonal on the exterior. The central piers, cruciform in section, divide the interior space into nine equal square compartments."
The northern wall is the oldest remaining wall. There are two reliefs on the northern wall—of Peter and Thecla and a cross—with several Greek inscriptions. "The rich ensemble of sculpture on the exterior of the church is of more recent times. It includes geometric and floral motifs, as well as a blind arcade and medallions with saintly figures."
The Etchmiadzin Cathedral has served as an influence in Armenian church architecture. A similar church, also named Etchmiadzin, was built in Georgia's capital Tbilisi in 1805. One of the most prominent Armenian churches, the Ghazanchetsots Cathedral in the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh (Artsakh), was inspired by Etchmiadzin.
The Armenian church architecture was spread in Western Europe in the 8th–9th centuries by Paulicians who migrated from Armenia after being suppressed by the Byzantine government during the Iconoclasm period. The 9th-century church of Germigny-des-Prés in France (built by Odo of Metz, possibly an Armenian) "has been cited in connection" with the Etchmiadzin-Bagaran type by Josef Strzygowski and Alexander Sahinian "because of the similarity in plans." They suggest that several medieval churches in Europe (e.g. Palatine Chapel of Aachen and San Satiro of Milan) were influenced by the cathedrals of Etchmiadzin and Bagaran and by Byzantine decorative arts.
Interior and frescoes
The early frescoes inside the cathedral were restored in the 18th century. Stepanos Lehatsi illustrated the belfry in 1664. In the 18th and 19th centuries, Armenian painters created frescoes of scenes from the old testament and Armenian saints. Naghash Hovnatan painted parts of the interior between 1712 and 1721. His paintings on the dome and the painting of the Mother of God under the altar have survived to this day. Other members of the prominent Hovnatanian family (Hakob, Harutyun and Hovnatan) created paintings throughout the 18th century. Their work was continued by the succeeding generations of the same family (Mkrtum and Hakob) in the 19th century.
The wooden doors of the cathedral were carved in Tiflis in 1888. The painting were moved out of the cathedral by the order of Catholicos Mkrtich Khrimian in 1891 and are now kept in various museums in Armenia, including the National Gallery of Armenia. The frescoes inside the cathedral were restored by Lydia Durnova in 1956. In the 1950s, the stone floor was replaced with one of marble.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Etchmiadzin Cathedral.|
A drawing by John Mason Neale, 1850
The cathedral appears on the obverse side of 50,000-dram banknote (2001)
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