The Holy City and the
Mother Church of St. Etchmiadzin
By Gevork Nazaryan
City of Etchmiadzin, will be the gathering point of the Christian pilgrims
in the year 2001 A.D. the year of the celebration of the 1700th Anniversary
of Armenia becoming the first nation to officially adopt and embrace Christianity
in the year 301 A.D. by the conversion of King Trdat (Tiridates) III Arshakouni
and his royal court by St. Gregory the Illuminator, who established the
Church of Armenia.
in Armenia has very deep roots. Two of Jesus Christís Apostles, Thaddeus
and Bartholomew, were the first to preach the Word of God in Armenia, in
provinces of Syunik and Goghtan in the first century A.D. The Holy Apostles
were martyred, by king Sanatrook Arshakouni, who saw the great following
of the Apostles and conversions to Christianity as a great danger to his
reign and stability, among the converts were many members of the royal
court of king Sanatrook, including his sister, who was too along with other
Christian converts was martyred. The roots of Church of Armenia lay at
those times of preaching of the Holy Apostles, the official name of the
Church of Armenia in the honor of the Apostles is "Holy Apostolic Church
The archaeological excavations and digs in sites such as, Shresh Bloor
and Mokhra Bloor, in the vicinity of modern day City of St. Etchmiadzin
revealed layers of early prehistoric settlements, the oldest which dates
back to Stone Age. Layers of Bronze Age culture and under the later layers,
an advanced culture of Iron Age was revealed. Artifacts dating to these
periods, such as pottery, arrowheads, spears, swords, etc. The later part
of the Bronze and Iron Age is followed by the period of the powerful kingdom
of Ararat. During the reign of the Araratian king, Hrusha (Rusas) II (685B.C.-645B.C.),
a cuneiform inscription was made, in the occasion of the great water canal
that was made by the orders of king Hrusha II, from the river of Ildaruni
(Hrazdan) to the city of Quarlini, which lay in the heart of the St. Etchmiadzin
and which became the nucleus for the city of St. Etchmiadzin later on.
The city of Quarlini, was connected to the cities and fortress of the eastern
provinces of the kingdom of Ararat such as, Teishebaini, Argishtikhinili,
Erebuni and Menuakhinili. The city became an important center of Araratian
commerce and trade system. Soon after, the Yervandouni dynasty of Armenia,
or the kingdom of Ararat became the ruling Royal House in Armenia.
During the reign of king Yervand Sakavakyats (570B.C.-560B.C.) of the
Yervandouni royal house, the husband of the kings wife, Vardkes Manuk or
the youngest greatly rebuild an reshaped the old Araratian city of Quarlini
and renamed it in his name and honor Vardkesavan. During the reign of the
one of the most powerful kings of Armenia, king Tigran (Tigranes) the Great
(95B.C.-55B.C.), the city became as a trading and commercial city, near
the large city of Artashat, of the vast Armenian Empire, grew due to the
vast conquest of Tigran the Great in the Near East, Anatolia and the Caucasus.
Tigran, envisioned Armenia as a powerful Hellenistic state, with large
cities such as Vardkesavan - St. Etchmiadzin. His great capital Tigranakert,
had a population which numbered into hundred of thousands of citizens.
The city had a multiethnic and diverse population, which was common in
Hellenistic type cities such as Vardkesavan.
Vagharsh I, from the Royal House of Arshak (Arsacids) once again rebuilt
and remodeled the city of Vardkesavan, the city walls were completely rebuilt
and restructured. In his honor king Vagharsh I renamed the city Vagharshapat.
The vast city of Vagharshapat was considered as a second capital, after
the city of Artashat, by the Arshakouni kings. The city of Vagharshapat
had the Royal Palace of the Arshakouni kings, the city also had a large
military contingent of the kings and nobles army which was housed in barracks
of the city. After 301 A.D. and after the establishment of Christianity
as a State Religion by St. Gregory the Illuminator, the city of Vagharshapat
became the Holy Center of Christian Armenia and for Christians of Armenia,
and as well as a safe heaven for the Christians outside of Armenia, of
the vast Roman and Persian Empires, where Christianity was still persecuted
to a large extent by their pagan rulers.
According to the chronicler, Agathangelus,
soon after the conversion of Armenia to Christianity, St. Gregory the Illuminator
(the first patriarch Catholicos of Armenia's Holy Apostolic Church) saw
a beautiful vision.
The heavens opened, and a blazing
flood of light poured upon the earth. Through that light a parade of angels
started to come down to earth. At the head of this heavenly procession
there was a tall and glorious figure. It was the Lord Himself, the Only
Begotten Son of God. He had a golden hammer in His hand. Descending from
heaven down to the spot where the present Church of Etchmiadzin is standing,
He struck the ground three times with a hammer. Instantly a mighty golden
column rose on the spot and then it was transformed into a magnificent
church. Before the vision faded away, the form and the lines of this church
were indelibly impressed in the mind of St. Gregory.
From that day on, in 303ad, a splendid
church (St. Etchmiadzin which in Armenian means "the Holy Ground of Christ's
descent") has always stood on the same place for nearly 1700 years. Around
this Cathedral centred the national and religious life of the Armenians.
Throughout the centuries Armenia's
Holy Apostolic Church took upon itself the task of preaching the word of
God to its nearby neighbors. Peoples of Caucasian Albania and Iberia (Georgia)
were converted to Christianity and other tribes of Caucasus and beyond
were also converted.
In 404 A.D. St. Mesrop Mashtots,
a great Armenian scholar reinvented and revived the lost Armenian alphabet,
which was for many centuries replaced by the Greek and Parthian( Pahlavi)
alphabets, because of the great influence of the Parthian state and royalty,
which had blood ties with the Armenian Arshakuni (Arsacid) Royal Court
and the Christian ties with Byzantium. Many new schools and educational
facilities were established in St. Etchmiadzin. A new age of enlightenment
and awakening of culture began, which later on became known as the Golden
Age of Armenian Literature and Culture as a whole. Many new books were
written by Armenian scholars, such as the great works of Moses of Khoren
and his book "Armenian History" which comprised the History of the Armenian
people from the times of the flood to the V th century. The book of Yeghishe,
the author and eyewitness to the Great Battle of Avarayr, Holy war between
the Christian Armenians and Persian Zoroastrians, the war was the first
to be fought by any Christian nation for the Holy Faith and Christendom
and the book of Yeghishe described the bloody battle and the heroism of
both armies on the vast battlefield. Many translation were also conducted,
from the classical writers of ancient Greece, but the best translation
and the most painstakingly worked upon and completed (the Armenian scholars
believed that it would be a sin to make an inexact and inaccurate translation
of the Bible and the word of God) was the translation of the Holy Bible
into Armenian in the V th century, for its perfection it was regarded and
named the "Queen of Translations" by many European linguists of the XIX
th century. Many of those translations took place in St. Etchmiadzin and
other large cities and their monasteries and churches.
the early part of the VII th century, a number of renovations and constructions
took place in St. Etchmiadzin. The Mother Church of the Holy See of St.
Etchmiadzin and the Seat of The Catholicos of All Armenians, was rebuilt
and remodeled by Catholicos Komitas of Aghts . In the year 618 A.D. the
Monastery of St. Hripsime, one of the Christian virgins to be martyred,
during the days of Christian persecution was built. The church to this
day is a remarkable and spectacular in it's beauty. The church is complete
in its architectural and as well as shapely design. The monastery of St.
Gayane, the second of the two martyred virgins, was completed in the year
630 A.D., it too had a unique and impressive features. But one of the most
superb and outstanding churches to be built throughout the world in the
early, medieval Christian period was the church of Zvartnots or St. Gregory
the Illuminator. The construction of the church began in the year 643 A.D.
by the orders of Catholicos Nerses III Ishkhantsi and was completed in
the year 652 A.D. It was an extraordinarily enormous in its size and towering
in its height with its three sectioned parts on top of one another of massive
size and its conned dome, with its traditional Armenian architectural design
forming the end of the structure. The whole of structure was covert by
frescos and obelisks of Christian Saints and ancient Armenian ornament
of great beauty and fine craftsmanship. Inside the Church housed the Catholicosís
quarters, monks quarters and the chapel, the main hall served for the everyday
mass and Christian processions. The Church also housed a library of illuminated
manuscripts. There were also a number of adjoining structures such as baths
and sellers of food and vine. The frescos of the Church of Zvartnots were
also found in the decorations of the Church of Sen-Chapel of Paris, Roman
Catholic visitors and pilgrims must have seen the Church of Zvartnots and
were amazed by its superb architecture. The Sen-Chapel fresco depicts Zvartnots
on top of Noahís Ark, most probably, the Church of Zvartnots at that time
along with Holy Mt. Ararat, must have stood as symbol of Armenian Christendom.