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Geghard 7: Monk cells, Khachkar Wall . Geghard's Khachkars.

Monk cells, Khachkar Wall

Integral to the complex were the numerous (some say hundreds) of monk cells carved in the surrounding cliffs. Many were destroyed during earthquakes, including an entire wall of cells near and above the St. Astvatsatsin Cave Chapel (12). The monastery had an ascetic tradition, and monks lived, worked and prayed in the cells. Some did not leave their small quarters until they died.

To the east of the katoghikeh (cathedral) are a number of these primitive cells, at the top of a stone stairway. Referred to as the Grigor Lusavorich Caves, the founder of the monastery is believed to have stayed here at the beginning of the 4th century while preaching and converting the region to Christianity. Other famous residents include the Catholicos' Nerses Mets (the Great), Sahak Partev and the 13th century historian Mkhitar Aiyrivanetsi.

A few of these rustic cells have carved alters and work tables, and look onto the main cathedral. The monks who lived here were originally hermits, they came to this hard-to-reach site to meditate and live apart from earthly desires.

Geghard's Khachkars

On the cliff walls near the cells and above the church are a number of intricately carved khachkars (stone crosses), elaborately carved on the rock cliffs. The carvings date to the early medieval period, but most are from the 11th-13th centuries, with a few from later periods.

One of Armenia's most popular medieval pilgrimage sites, the monastery benefited from the numerous wills, land grants, manuscripts and treasures donated by wealthy pilgrims, a number of which are noted in the complex and on the walls of the monastery, including the many stone crosses.

The large number of khachkars speaks to the importance of the monastery; they were expensive to carve and benefactors would carefully choose where they placed their memorials. Those at Geghard show a high level of artistry, the compositions of some khachkars are quite unique.

The red color found on some of the cross stones is a result of their being painted with Vortan Karmir, a red dye made from beetles native to Armenia. The red dye was among the more famous exports of the kingdom, and was valued more than gold in Europe and the Near East. Its resilience has long since proved itself; the color you see now is more than 800 years old.

Original text edited by the Mother See of Holy Echmiadzin