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Akhtala 5: St. Astvatsatsin Frescoes. Residents

 St. Astvatsatsin Frescoes

The lower murals at St. Astvatsatsin are dated to the 11th century with features typical of Armenian miniature paintings, especially those from the Mughni Gospels. The coloring of the murals is characteristic of typical Byzantine art while the themes are more Armenian. Those from the thirteenth century and later more closely represent Byzantine art. Most of the murals bear Greek and Georgian scripture texts made under the patronage of Atabek Ivaneh Zakarian.

Scenes from both testaments and saints including St. Gregory the Illuminator are depicted in the double-tier murals. The large image of the Holy Virgin with Child on the dome was badly damaged and only parts survive. The mural underneath depicts the Communion, with Jesus appearing twice, turning both right and left while breaking bread with the Apostles. The images of the apostles Peter, John and Paul, as well as the evangelists Matthew and Luke have survived.

Other Christian saints are depicted below the Communion scene, including Pope Sylvester, St. James the brother of Jesus, St. John Chrysostom, Basil the Great, Gregory the Illuminator, Atanas of Alexandria, Pope Clement, Gregory the Thaumaturgist (Miracle Worker), Cyril of Alexandria, Gregory the Theologian and Cyprian of Carthage. The murals on the western wall depict the Kingdom of Heaven. The northern wall depicts the trial of Jesus by the High Priest Caiaphas and Pontius Pilate. Arches, niches and columns are also covered by murals. Some of the murals were renovated in 1979.

Inscriptions from nearby khachkars show the monastery was headed by a certain Petreh in the 1240s. The most prominent resident of the monastery was the translator and scribe Simon of Pghndzahank. Simon (1188-1255) was a clergyman for several years at the monastery, translating Byzantine theological literature. He collaborated with another Armenian of Chalcedonian faith, Minas Siunakiats of Trabzon. In 1227 Simon compiled a volume of works by Gregory of Nissa. He wrote:

In the year 6735 of the eternal calendar (1227 modern calendar) I completed the book by Bishop Gregory of Nyssa which was a well preserved old copy translated by the sinful and undeserving clergyman Simon who lived in Armenia, near Lori, at the Holy Virgin monastery of Pghndzahank. The book was translated during the reign of Atabek Ivaneh, the founder of the monastery, may God grant him and his sons long life.

The modern calendar date shows the difference between the Armenian eternal calendar date (6735) and the Byzantine (Chalcedonian) eternal calendar date (5508), each of which counts time from the birth of Adam.

Simon also translated from Georgian into Armenian the Elements of Theology by Proclus Diadochos, The Fountain of Wisdom by John Damascene, The Ladder of Divine Ascent by John of Sinai, A History of Georgia (Kartlis Tskhovreba) and The Greek Prayer Book.

The prominent 20th century Armenian film maker Sergei Parajanov filmed two episodes of his famous film The Color of Pomegranates at the monastery.

Original text edited by International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS)-Armenian National Committee and the Holy See of Echmiadzin.