Khor Virap

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Khor Virap 8: St. Astvatsatsin. Temple to Anahit.

St. Astvatsatsin

The eastern wall of the main church, St. Astvatsatsin (ca. 17th c.), is the first structure you see after passing through the gateway. The church is built on top of a rock dome, sloping edges of which jut out from the courtyard paving. The church, a domed hall type, was destroyed during the Timurid invasions of the late 14th century and rebuilt in the 17th century. It was damaged again by earthquakes and rebuilt or renovated in 1939, 1949 and 1957 before its most recent renovation in this century. The most recent renovation was in 2000-2001 within the framework of 1700th anniversary of proclaiming Christianity as state religion in Armenia.

The church is unique in that instead of the domed cruciform with four corner annexes typical for medieval Armenian churches, the building is instead a domed long hall with two annexes, one on either side of the apse. The hall is divided by a central arch, which forms the western side of the square that supports the 8-faceted drum. On its outside, the building appears to be a typical domed cruciform, the rooflines forming the wings of the cross.

The western entry is protected by a 17th century bell tower, itself topped with an eight column bell tower topped by a conical roof.

Note that Astvatsatsin is a working church; please observe strict protocol when entering the church, especially when attending a service. Men should remove hats and women wear head scarves. You may purchase candles and other religious items at the entry desk.

Temple to Anahit

The temple was located in the area where the present Astvatsatsin now stands. It was, along with the Temple to Apollo-Tir (Mher), one of the most important temples in the old city, and was covered with marble and copper plate, its treasury lavished with statuary, gold and silver plate.

Among artifacts found in early excavations was the head of an idol to Anahit, goddess of fertility and motherhood. One of the most beautiful sculptural pieces from the Near East, a copy is in the State History Museum in Yerevan. The original is now housed at the British Museum.

The text was edited by Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin.