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Geghard 5: Proshian (St. Astvatsatsin) Church (5).

Proshian (St. Astvatsatsin) Church (5)

The Proshian Church is reached via the Proshian Chapel-Sepulcher. The church was first carved between 1215-1225 for the Zakarian family, and is believed to have been later enlarged and embellished for the Proshians by the architect Galdzag in 1283. Galdzag is also responsible for the Avazan spring church and the upper gavit.

The small domed cruciform church has three antechambers, two flanking the broad semi-circular apse and a third lying off the northern wall. Half columns at the corners of the central hall support the arches, which in turn support a drum and cupola, itself divided into 12 sections by high relief carvings, decorated with stylized vines and trees-of-life bearing pomegranates and grape bunches.

The walls of the church are similarly decorated with high-relief designs, geometric patterns, platbands and elaborate sun symbols.

To the left of the altar there is a large unique cross set over a Tree of Life and a sun symbol with the head of Adam at its base. The tips of the cross are carved with smaller crosses, unique for Armenian carvings. There are two figures on either side of the cross, each with a spear, one blowing a ram's horn. The figures are thought to be Proshians.

The figures on the altar walls and apron incorporate various symbols, including a goat figure at the altar steps. The altar has one set of steps and a carved throne. The carved lion head on the throne suggests this was reserved for the Proshians during services, the church being their private chapel.

Cracks in the walls are a result of earthquakes, the worst of which occurred in 1679. Five years later the site was reconstructed and re-inhabited, becoming a summer residence for reigning Catholicos’.

One of the most remarkable achievements of the Middle Ages in Armenia is this edifice, along with the Avazan Church and the upper gavit. Entirely carved by hand, and taking more than 40 years to complete, the structures are especially impressive for the way the architect chose to carve the structures; from the top down. The difficulty in doing this cannot be over stressed, nor the sheer act of faith the architect and builders showed in undertaking such a gigantic task.

Original text edited by the Mother See of Holy Echmiadzin