Saint Hripsime Church

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Saint Hripsime Church
S. Hripsime exterior.JPG
View of the church, 2009
Basic information
Location Vagharshapat, Armavir Province, Armenia
Geographic coordinates 40°10′01″N 44°18′35″E / 40.166992°N 44.309675°E / 40.166992; 44.309675Coordinates: 40°10′01″N 44°18′35″E / 40.166992°N 44.309675°E / 40.166992; 44.309675
Affiliation Armenian Apostolic Church
Rite Armenian
Status Active
Architectural description
Architectural type Tetraconch[1]
Architectural style Armenian
Founder Komitas Aghtsetsi
Completed 618 (current building)[2][1][3]
Length 22.8 metres (75 ft)[4]
Width 17.7 metres (58 ft)[4]
Official name: Cathedral and Churches of Echmiatsin and the Archaeological Site of Zvartnots
Type Cultural
Criteria ii, iii
Designated 2000 (24th session)
Reference no. 1011
Region Western Asia

Saint Hripsime Church (Armenian: Սուրբ Հռիփսիմե եկեղեցի, Surb Hřip’simē yekeghetsi; sometimes Hripsimeh)[5][6] is a seventh century Armenian Apostolic church in the city of Vagharshapat (Etchmiadzin), Armenia. It is one of the oldest surviving churches in the country. The church was erected by Catholicos Komitas to replace the original mausoleum built by Catholicos Sahak the Great in 395 AD that contained the remains of the martyred Saint Hripsime to whom the church is dedicated. The current structure was completed in 618 AD. It is known for its fine Armenian-style architecture of the classical period, which has influenced many other Armenian churches since. It was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site along with other nearby churches, including Etchmiadzin Cathedral, Armenia's mother church, in 2000.



Hripsime, along with the abbess Gayane and thirty-eight unnamed nuns, are traditionally considered the first Christian martyrs in Armenia's history. They were persecuted, tortured, and eventually killed by king Tiridates III of Armenia. According to the chronicler Agathangelos, after conversion to Christianity in 301, Tiridates and Gregory the Illuminator built a martyrium[3] dedicated to Hripsime at the location of her martyrdom, which was half buried underground.[7][2] In 395 Patriarch Sahak the Parthian (Isaac of Armenia) rebuilt or built a new martyrium, which had been destroyed by the Persians.[7][2]

During excavations in 1958 stones with Hellenistic ornaments were found under the supporting column, which proved that a Hellenistic pagan temple once stood in its place.[2][8] Excavations around the church have uncovered remains of several tortured women buried in early Christian manner, which "seem to support the story of Agathangelos."[9]

Current building[edit]

The current building was erected during the reign of Catholicos Komitas (615–628),[10] according to an account of contemporary chronicler Sebeos and two inscriptions, one on the west facade and the other on the east apse. It replaced the earlier mausoleum of Hripsime.[10][1] The church is suggested by scholars to have been completed in 618.[8][7][2][1][11] The dome was probably restored in the 10th[2] or 11th centuries, although some scholars have argued that it is the original 7th century construction.[1]

Painting of the church by Vardges Sureniants, 1879

Modern period[edit]

The church was dilapidated and abandoned[7] by the early 17th century.[2][8] It was renovated by Catholicos Philipos in 1653, under whose commission an open narthex (gavit) was erected in front of the western entrance.[8][2] In 1776 the church was fortified with a brick wall and pyramids on the corners by Catholicos Simeon I of Yerevan.[7][2] In 1880 the eastern and southern walls were built of smoothly hewn stone.[8] A bell tower was built on the narthex (gavit) in 1880.[2][12] The church underwent considerable renovation in 1898.[2][8] Its foundations were strengthened and the roof and dome were repaired in 1936.[1] In 1958 plaster from was removed from the interior walls and the interior floor was lowered.[2][1] The bell tower was renovated in 1987.[7]


Cross section of the church per Toros Toramanian[13]

St. Hripsime Church is a "tetraconch with angular niches [with] inner octagon with cylindrical niches in corners."[1] It has been described as a "gem of Armenian architecture"[14] and "one of the most complex compositions in Armenian architecture."[12] St. Hripsime Church, along with Saint Gayane Church, stands as a "model of the austere beauty of early Armenian ecclesiastical architecture."[10] The church, with its "domed tetraconch enclosed in a rectangle and its monumental exterior, is considered one of the great achievements of medieval Armenian architecture."[15] German art historian Wilhelm Lübke wrote that the church is built on "a most complicated variation of the cruciform ground-plan."[16]


The church is not the earliest example of its architectural style, however, the style is widely known in architectural history as "Hripsime-type" as the church is the best-known example of the particular style. Some notable churches with similar plans include the 5th century Mastara Church (which one scholar suggested "may be at the origin of the typical Armenian church type, called in special literature 'Hripsime-type'),[17] Surb Hovhannes (Saint John) Church of Avan (6th century), Surb Gevorg (Saint George) Church of Garnahovit (6th century), Church of the Holy Cross at Soradir (6th century), Targmanchats monastery of Aygeshat (7th century),[2] Holy Cross Cathedral of Aghtamar (10th century),[18][19][2][12] Surb Astvatsatsin (Holy Mother of God) Church of Varagavank (11th century).[20] The St. Vartan Cathedral in New York City, the headquarters of the Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Church of America, is also a Hripsime-type church. It was designed by Walker O. Cain and completed in 1968.[21][22]

The style is also found in neighboring Georgia,[3] where some examples include the Ateni Sioni Church (7th century), Jvari monastery (7th century), Martvili Monastery (10th century).[2]


Artistic and historic depictions

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h "Saint Hrp'sime". California State University, Fresno. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Eremian, A. (1980). "Հռիփսիմեի տաճար [Hripsime temple]". Soviet Armenian Encyclopedia Volume 6 (in Armenian). Yerevan: Armenian Encyclopedia Publishing. pp. 596–597. 
  3. ^ a b c Hunt, Lucy-Anne (2008). "Eastern Christian Iconographic and Architectural Traditions: Oriental Orthodox". In Parry, Ken. The Blackwell Companion to Eastern Christianity. John Wiley & Sons. p. 394. ...was influential in Armenia and early imitations of it are found in Georgia... 
  4. ^ a b c Strzygowski 1918, p. 92.
  5. ^ Dalton, Ormonde Maddock (1925). East Christian art: a survey of the monuments. Hacker Art Books. p. 33. Armenia, such as the cathedral of Edgmiatsin, the church at Bagaran, and the Hripsimeh church at Vagharshapat... 
  6. ^ Svajian, Stephen G. (1977). A Trip Through Historic Armenia. GreenHill Pub. p. 85. According to Lynch, the interior of the chapel has the features of St. Hripsimeh Church in Etchmiadzin. 
  7. ^ a b c d e f "Էջմիածնի Սուրբ Հռիփսիմե եկեղեցի". (in Armenian). Armenian Encyclopedia. 
  8. ^ a b c d e f "Saint Hripsime Church". Service for the Protection of Historical Environment and Cultural Museum Reservations, Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Armenia. 1 February 2012. 
  9. ^ Hacikyan, Agop Jack; Basmajian, Gabriel; Franchuk, Edward S.; Ouzounian, Nourhan (2000). The Heritage of Armenian Literature: From the Oral Tradition to the Golden Age. Detroit: Wayne State University Press. p. 121. ISBN 9780814328156. 
  10. ^ a b c Adalian, Rouben Paul (2010). Historical Dictionary of Armenia. Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press. p. 298. ISBN 978-0-8108-7450-3. 
  11. ^ Kiesling, Brady (2000). Rediscovering Armenia: An Archaeological/Touristic Gazetteer and Map Set for the Historical Monuments of Armenia (PDF). Yerevan/Washington DC: Embassy of the United States of America to Armenia. p. 34. 
  12. ^ a b c "Սուրբ Հռիփսիմե վանք". (in Armenian). Municipality of Ejmiatsin. 2 March 2012. 
  13. ^ Strzygowski 1918, p. 94.
  14. ^ Ellen and Peter Boer (2013). Grand Tourist. Xlibris Corporation. p. 222. ISBN 9781483603049. 
  15. ^ Foss, Clive (2003). "The Persians in the Roman Near East (602–630 AD)". Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society 13 (2): 155. 
  16. ^ Lübke, Wilhelm (1881). Cook, Clarence, ed. Outlines of the History of Art Volume I. New York: Dodd, Mead, and Company. p. 441. 
  17. ^ Guzsik, Tamįs (1992). "Traditions and development in Armenian sacral architecture". Periodica Polytechnica Architecture (Budapest University of Technology and Economics) 36 (1-4): 171. Beyond the strictly meant liturgy space, the integer Mastara building may be at the origin of the typical Armenian church type, called in special literature 'Hripsime-type, after the memory hall built 614-618 in Vagharsapat. The octagonal, mid-dome hall is joined at corners by protheses, and laterally by apses (tetraconch system). There are several examples for this layout from the 7th century (Avan, Targmanchasvank, Garnakhovit, Sissavan) 
  18. ^ Wharton, Alyson (2015). The Architects of Ottoman Constantinople: The Balyan Family and the History of Ottoman Architecture. I.B. Tauris. p. 62. ISBN 9781780768526. ...Cathedral of the Holy Cross (915–21) at Akhtamar in Lake Van, which follows the Surp Hripsime model... 
  19. ^ Cheterian, Vicken (2015). Open Wounds: Armenians, Turks and a Century of Genocide. Oxford University Press. p. 239. ISBN 9780190263508. 
  20. ^ Hasratyan, Murad (2002). "Վարագավանք [Varagavank]". Yerevan State University Institute for Armenian Studies (in Armenian). "Christian Armenia" Encyclopedia. Archived from the original on 8 October 2014. ...Վարագավանքի գլխ.՝ Ս. Աստվածածին եկեղեցին (XI դ.), որն ունի «հռիփսիմեատիպ» կառույցների հորինվածքը... 
  21. ^ "23-Karat Gold Leaf; Dome of Armenian Cathedral Is Regilded". New York Times. 5 December 1993. 
  22. ^ "The Artistry of St. Vartan Cathedral". (New York). Diocese of the Armenian Church of America (Eastern). 
  23. ^ Lynch 1901, pp. 268-269.


Academic articles
Published books
  • Lynch, H. F. B. (1901). Armenia, travels and studies. Volume I: The Russian Provinces. London: Longmans, Green, and Co. 
  • Strzygowski, Josef (1918). Die Baukunst der Armenier und Europa [The Architecture of the Armenians and of Europe] Volume I (in German). Vienna: Kunstverlag Anton Schroll & Co. pp. 92-94. 

External links[edit]