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Geghard 1: History. Map Legend.


The exact date for the founding of the monastery is unknown but pre-Christians worshiped at springs at the site, particularly one inside a cave that is now enclosed by the main gavit.

It is believed a monastery was established at the site in the beginning of the 4th century by the first Catholicos St. Gregory the Illuminator (S. Grigor Lusavorich) and became known as “Aiyrivank” or “Monastery of Caves”. It was developed by Gregory and a later Catholicos, St. Sahak Partev, who was head of the Church at the time the Armenian Alphabet was invented. The ascetic lifestyle of monks is illustrated by the numerous small caves on the cliffs inside and surrounding the site, exposed to the elements and many reached only by ladder or rope. Gregory is believed to have lived in one of these cells.

Historians write that the old monastery had, along with the ascetic monk quarters several churches, shrines, well-built residential quarters and extensive support buildings. It was an important Manuscriptorium, seminary, academy of music and pilgrimage site.

During the Bagratuni era (920s), when Armenia was invaded by the Arab army, the Arab vice-regent in Armenia Nasr plundered the site. It was rebuilt (though countless manuscripts were lost) and the monastery was encircled with fortifications, many of which still survive.

Though inscriptions are found from the 1160s, the current monastery is considered a product of the 13th century, when the Orbelian king and his generals the Zakarian brothers retook large portions of the Armenian kingdom from the Seljuks, including Geghard monastery.

At its height in the 13th century, Geghard monastery benefited from patronage by princely families and was a pilgrimage site, not least for its reliquaries of the Holy Lance, the spear used by a Roman soldier to pierce the crucified Christ. This reliquary gave the monastery its current name Geghardavank (Monastery of the Spear). Another relic was a wooden fragment said to have been a piece of Noah's Ark.

The monastery was sacked by Mongols and later Timurids, destroyed in 1127, 1679 and 1840 earthquakes, rebuilt in succeeding centuries and serving as a summer residence for succeeding Catholicos.

Original text edited by the Mother See of Holy Echmiadzin


Map Legend

1. Katoghikeh church
2. Katoghikeh church Gavit
3. Avazan cave church
4. Proshian Chapel-Sepulcher
5. St. Astvatsatsin (Proshian) church
6. Papak & Ruzukan Gavit-Sepulcher
(Upper Gavit)
7. Lusavorich cave chapel
8. Service premises
9. Residence
10. Parsonage
11. Refectory
12. St. Astvatsatsin cave chapel