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Noratus 2: Cemetery History. The development of the Khachkar

 Cemetery History

Noratus is most famous for this cemetery, the oldest part of which includes over 800 khachkars (stone crosses), carved between the 9th-17th centuries.

The carvings are from each period of the art form's development, which are distilled into three main periods: 9th-10th cc, 11th-12th cc and 13th-16th cc.

Noratus field was the second largest field of khachkars in existence until the larger field of around 2,500 khachkars at Jugha (Nakhichevan) were systematically destroyed by Azerbaijan in 1998-2005. Few Jugha Stones survive, mostly at Echmiadzin. After the destruction of the Jugha field, Noratus became the largest remaining collection of khachkars in the world.

The Development of the Khachkar

Among Armenia's unique contributions to world heritage, one of its most original is the Khachkar (Stone Cross). Based on ancient traditions of obelisk art, the rise of the khachkar began in the early Christina era and reached its zenith in the Middle Ages. Noratus has many fine examples from each period of their development.

The origins of the khachkar date to the pre-Christian period, to carved monumental water-worship idols erected at sources of water, known as vishaps (dragon stones). They are found on the Geghama mountain range, on Mt. Aragats, in Vayots Dzor, and other places. Later, Urartian kings erected obelisks on pedestals for inscriptions and proclamations (8th-7th cc BCE) which are considered archetypes of the khachkar form. Some of the most famous obelisks are at Zvartnots (King Rusa II), Garni (Argishti) and Van (present-day Turkey). Obelisks and steles from the Hellenistic period can be found at Pagan worship sites and on roads linking communities.

In the 4th-5th centuries column-like obelisks with crosses were erected on the edges of Mt. Aragats, especially at Talin (Aragatsotn marz) and Artik (Shirak marz). As early Christians converted pagan temples into churches, they often erected the symbol of their new religion—the cross—at the site. It is recorded that Grigor Lusavorich (Gregory the Illuminator, founder of the Armenian Apostolic Church) erected crosses where the martyrs Saints Hripsimeh and Guyaneh were killed, along roads and in town squares. Tradition states wooden crosses were erected on Sevan Island, at Sanahin and as far as Georgia.

The substitution of stone for wood is traced to the 5th-7th cc when open wing crosses were carved. The wing cross was the foundation for the new Armenian art form, the Khachkar, which obtained its final shape in 9th century.

In the 9th-10th centuries, following Arab rule, the country began to flourish, and the cities of Ani, Lori, Kars and Van became centers of wealth and patronage, and it is in this period that the Khachkar proper emerged.

Original text edited by the International Council on Monuments and Sites-Armenia and the Institute of Archeology and Ethnography of the National Academy of Sciences.