Noravank monastery complex

Vayots Dzor

The Noravank monastery is situated on a ledge of a deep winding gorge of a tributary of the Arpa River near the village of Amaghu, Vayots Dzor district. Noravank ensemble stands amidst the bizarre-shaped precipitous red cliffs. Built in place of an ancient monastery, it grew in the reign of Princes Orbelyan of Syunik. In the 13th-14th centuries the monastery became a residence of Syunik's bishops and, consequently, a major religious and, later, cultural center of Armenia.

Of great interest are the vestibule of St.Karapet church and the church of St.Astvatzatzin, built by Momik. The church of St.Karapet (the 9th-10th cc.), which has come down to us in ruins, is the most ancient monument of Noravank. To the north of it, there is the main temple, also dedicated to St.Karapet. Erected in 1216-1223, it belongs to the widespread cross-winged domed type with two-storey side-chapels in the corners.

The vestibule, erected in 1261, was probably a four-pillar one. In 1321 the building, probably destroyed by an earthquake, was covered with a new roof in the shape of an enormous stone tent with horizontal divisions, imitating the wooden roof of the «?azarashen» - type peasant home. In exterior decoration the main emphasis is laid on the western side. The entrance to the building is framed in two rows of trefoils and an inscription, the semi-circular tympanum of the door is filled with an ornament and with a representation of the Holy Virgin seated on a rug with the Child and flanked by two saints. The pointed tympanum of the twin window over the door is decorated with a unique relief representation of the large-headed Father blessing the Crucifix with his right hand and holding in his left hand the head of Adam, with a dove - the Holy Spirit - above it. In the right corner of the tympanum there is a seraph dove; the space between it and the figure of the Father is filled with an inscription balancing the composition of the scene of crucifixion. The relief is centered on the face of the Father. The figures are executed in high relief, and the inscriptions are depressed into the surface of the tympanum. The reliefs of both tympanums are distinguished by monumentality and completeness.

St.Astvatzatzin church, known as Burtelashen («Burtel-built») after the name of its founder, is situated to the south-east of St.Karapet church. Completed in 1339, it was Momik’s last work. Near the church there is his tomb khachkar, small and modestly decorated, dated the same year.

Burtelashen temple is the architectural dominant of Noravank ensemble. Accordingly, decoration is more modest at the bottom and richer at the top.

The western portal is decorated with special splendor. The doors are framed in broad rectangular platbands, with ledges in the upper part, with columns, fillets and strips of various, mostly geometrical, fine and intricate patterns. Between the outer platband and the arched framing of the openings there are representations of doves and sirens with women’s crowned heads. The door tympanums are decorated with high reliefs showing, in the ground storey, the Holy Virgin with the Child and Archangels Gabriel and Michael at her sides and, in the upper storey, a half-length representation of Christ and figures of the Apostles Peter and Paul. A group of the founders of Burtelashen is depicted on three columns of the western part of its rotunda. The picture consisted of relief figures of the Holy Virgin with the Child, sitting on a throne, and two standing men in rich attires, one of them holding a model of the temple.

The church of St.Grigory (the burial place of the Orbelyans) was added by the architect Siranes to the northern wall of St.Karapet church in 1275. This is a modest structure, rectangular in the plan, with a semi-circular altar and a vaulted ceiling on a wall arch. The entrance with an arched tympanum is decorated with columns, and the altar apse is flanked with khachkars and representations of doves in relief.

On the territory of the complex there have survived several khachkars of original designs. The most valuable of them all is a 1308 khachkar by Momik. The top of the khachkar shows a Deesis scene.

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