Haghpat

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Haghpat 3: St. Grigor Church (2). St. N'shan Church (3).

St. Grigor Church (2)

The first church you face while entering the complex from the parking lot is the small St. Grigor Church (1023-1025), a rectangular building with an inscribed cross interior and chambers at the four corners. Flanking the entry the chambers are on three floors, unique for Armenian churches. The now bare walls were once adorned with frescoes and religious offerings.

St. Grigor lost its dome during reconstruction in 1211 and the barrel vault now supports a simple gabled roof. The outer walls are decorated with columns and a pointed arch.

St. N'shan Church (3)

St. N'shan (Holy Sign or Holy Cross) is the oldest surviving church in the monastery and is reached via the Gavit (4). It was built between 976-991 by order of Queen Khosrovanuish in honor of her sons Gurgen (Kiurikeh) and Smbat. The queen was also a patroness of Sanahin, and sponsored the Amenaprkitch Church (966), dedicating it to her sons. Here at Haghpat the sons returned the honor by contributing to St. N'shan's construction. By doing so, they established a precedent for lavishing attention on two rival religious communities, each specializing in religious study, calligraphy, pictorial illumination and the sciences. Later sponsors included the Kiurikian family.

St. N'shan is a cruciform type church, encased in a rectangular building, its relatively compact design crowned by a large dome (renovated in 1113). From the outside it seems a simple rectangle, but inside transverse arms make an impression of the cross. It may have been designed by the medieval architect T'rdat, who was later called to Constantinople to repair the dome of the Haghia Sophia Church, and who was responsible for the Cathedral of the Bagratuni capital of Ani.

The dome's cupola is spectacular, its support abutments protruding to the center resting on high arches gracefully curving to triangular points (pendentives). At each of the four corners are two-story annexes. Stone steps lead to a specially built balcony for the Kiurikian family when they attended mass.

The interior decor includes the remains of frescoes that once covered the walls, including a painting of a donor, Khutlu-bugha, son of Sadun Atabek (grand vizier), on the south wall and numerous geometric patterns. The altar apse at St. N'shan was twice frescoed, the last in the second half of the 13th century, and includes the composition “Christ Enthroned” with saints and apostles underneath in a recreation of Annunciation, Christmas, and baptism scenes.

On the outside of the eastern wall (facing the bell tower) is a copy of the bas relief sculpture at Sanahin of Khosrovanuish's sons Smbat and Gurgen (Kiurikeh) holding a model of the church. Smbat became King Smbat II Bagratuni (the Conqueror, 977-989), and Gurgen founder of the Kiurikian dynasty in Lori.