St. Ejmiatzin Cathedral

303 y.

Ejmiatzin is the center of the Armenian Church. It is where the Catholicos Of All Armenians lives, and the location of Ejmiatzin Church. The church, built in 480, is located in a walled compound with gardens and various structures. Ejmiatzin means the coming of the only begotten because it was built were people said Jesus Himself descended from heaven to show where He wanted a church built.

Vagharshapat (Armavir district) was founded by King Vagharshak (117-140) in the place of Vardgesavan. An ancient settlement of the third-second centuries B.C. in view of the might of the town’s fortifications-fortress walls, ramparts and moats - the Romans, upon the second destruction of Artashat in 163, transferred the capital of Armenia to Vagharshapat which, after Christianity was proclaimed the state religion in 301, became the country’s religious centre as well.

Vagharshapat was repeatedly destroyed by enemies. In particular it was left in ruins by Persian troops in 364-369. However, the improvement of economic welfare in the long periods between wars made it possible to do extensive construction work and to erect in the town large structures which played an extraordinary role in the development of national architecture.

On the territory of Vagharshapat there have survived monuments of various periods of Armenia’s history. Urartu arrows have been found in the temples of Zvartnots and Ejmiatzin and remnants of an ancient hearth of a heathen tabernacle - in the altar part of the latter.

Ejmiatzin cathedral was the main Christian temple of Vagharshapat. Ejmiatzin cathedral («the place where the homogeneous come together») is the most ancient Christian temple of Armenia. It was built in 301-303 by Grigor Lusavorich (Gregory the Еnlightener), the founder of the Armenian Gregorian church next to the king’s palace, in place of a destroyed heathen basilica. The monastery which took shape around the cathedral is the residence of Catholicos the head of the Armenian clergy.

Scientists’ opinions as to the original appearance of Ejmiatzin cathedral vary. At the beginning of the seventh century the building’s wooden dome, probably octohedral and shaped like the roof of the Armenian peasant home was replaced by a stone one. This composition of the cathedral has come down to our day almost unchanged. Harmonious proportions and sharpness of individual elements impart great artistic expressiveness to the interior whose shapes are simple and clear-cut. The building’s outward appearance, which underwent certain changes in the a 7th and subsequent centuries, was no less clear-cut.

In the 17th century (1653-1658), for instance, a new cupola and a three-tier belfry were built, the latter in front of the western entrance to the cathedral. The decoration of the cupola and, especially, of the belfry is in sharp contrast with the ascetic shapes of the ancient parts of the cathedral. In accordance with the artistic tasks of that epoch, they were decorated with abundant decorative carvings. The representations of ox and snake heads are of symbolic significance.

The six-column rotundas on four-pillar bases, built at the beginning of the 18th century over the northern, eastern and southern apses, have given the cathedral a five-dome crowning. The interior murals, created by the Armenian painter Naghash Ovnatan in 1720, was restored and elaborated upon by his grandson. Ovnatan Ovnatanyan in 1782-1786. In 1955-1956, the interior murals of the cathedral and of the belfry were renewed by a group of Soviet artists under the leadership of L.Durnovo. This rich and variegated floral ornament - orange-red on the altar wall and lilac-blue in other places - is an outstanding work of 18-century Armenian art. Ovnatan Ovnatanyan also painted oil canvas pictures on religious themes for Ejmiatzin Cathedral (some of them are on display in Yerevan picture gallery). These early works of Armenian paining already show features of realism.

Rich gifts of church-plate and valuable works of applied art kept pouring into Ejmiatzin as the residence of the Catholicos. Three premises, now housing the monastery’s museum, were annexed to the eastern side of the cathedral in 1869 to keep these gifts in. The architectural elements of the annex - twin windows with transom bars, protruding lock plates and frontons show the influence of Russian architecture of the second half of the 19th century.

Meriting special attention among the museum exhibits are gorgeous church attires embroidered with gold and pearls, printed curtains, embroidered coverlets, crosses, all kinds of ritual vessels of silver gold, ivory, adorned with filigree work and jewels. Most of these articles date back to the l7th-19th centuries. There are older works of art, too. A tenth-century crucifix of Havuts Tar monastery is one of the oldest wooden bas-reliefs in Armenia to have come down to this day. The plasticity of the naked body, the expressiveness of the faces and the tension of poses are conveyed most convincingly. In G.Ovsepyan’s opinion, the presence of heads in the ornament implies that there existed in Armenia metal crucifixes which have not survived. Of interest are the chairs of the 17th century Catholicoses decorated, besides mother-of-pearl and ivory incrustation, with a complicated geometrical and floral carving and wrought iron heads and paws of lions. There are also rare ancient coins, various relics and ancient manuscripts with headpieces and miniatures.

The most valuable of Ejmiatzin's manuscripts is the world famous «Ejmiatzin Gospel» of 989, now in Matenadaran (Ancient Manuscript Research Institute of the Armenian Academy of Sciences, No. 2374), a copy of the ancient original made by scribe Ovanes in Bgheno-Noravank monastery, the summer residence of Syunik bishops. This is a monument of three stylistically different epochs. The end miniatures of the 6th-7th centuries, reflecting the influence of Hellenism, are close in their colour scheme and pastel technique to the encaustic icons of the 5th-6th centuries and, in the expressiveness of the typically Armenian faces, to the interior murals of Stepanos church in Lmbat (the early 7th century).

Some of the exhibits of Ejmiatzin monastery are put on display on the territory of the monastery’s yard. Meriting attention are the khachkars - one of the Amenaprkich type of 1279, and the other from the old Djugha cemetery (the 17th century) covered with intricate floral and geometrical ornaments, pictures of birds and animals and various scenes featuring figures of men and saints.

On the monastery yard there are the buildings of the Catholicosat, a school, a winter and summer refectories, a hostel, Trdat’s gate and other structures. They were built in the 17th-19th centuries in place of earlier buildings.

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