Momik: Noravank

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Noravank 6: History. Complex.


Though its status rests in its medieval achievements, Noravank also shows signs of having been a place of worship from a much earlier time. A cloistered monastery was built at the site in the early Christian era, the basis of its transition into one of the preeminent communities of prayer, learning and politics in the 13th-14th cc. Noravank is also where some of Armenia's most famous medieval artists lived, worked and are buried.

Noravank was founded by Bishop Hovhannes, abbot of Vahanavank (near Kapan), who moved Syunik bishopric to Noravank in 1205 when he became the bishop of Syunik Diocese. In the following two centuries the monastery grew with the fortunes of the ruling Orbelian clan of kings, who bequeathed riches on the church, establishing it as the center of the Church in historic Siunik while commissioning patrimonial sepulchres at the monastery.

Mongols looted the monastery in 1238, but a truce between the Agha Khan and Prince Elikum Orbelian brought peace to the region and the chance to rebuild the monastery, establishing a new golden age that lasted until the Timurid invasions in the late 14th c.

Noravank was a major cultural center of its time, closely tied to religious and educational centers like the universities at Gladzor and Tatev Monastery, among others. Owing to its Orbelian benefactors, the monastery was also a fulcrum in the political developments of the time. One of its most famous bishops was Stepanos Orbelian, author of History of the State of Sisakan (ca. 1299), and largely responsible for forging the Siunik bishopric into a powerful political, cultural and religious center.

Noravank and Momik

The monastery is connected to the sculptural work of one of the most prolific and accomplished Armenian figures of the Middle Ages, the artist, architect and sculptor Momik (1250?–1339).

Momik began his career as an artist of manuscript miniatures in Cilicia (Kilikia), where he was exposed to the art of the late gothic style, introduced by crusaders. Bishop Stepanos Orbelian is said to have brought Momik to Vayots Dzor from Cilicia in 1286, and he quickly found fame in his new home, especially for his sculptural work, creating khachkars (stone crosses) that are among the greatest of its time.

Momik was the architect and sculptural artist for St. Astvatsatsin in nearby Areni (1321).His exquisite bas relief sculptures adorn the gavit portal at Noravank. He also added a number of khachkars to both complexes, which are still considered masterpieces of the art form. It is commonly believed to think that his last work was at Noravank, where he created the Orbelian sepulchre church of Astvatsatsin (“Burtelashen”), two striking bas relief sculptures on its west and south walls, and a small, simple khachkar - his memorial stone, which is at the south side of the building.

St. Stepanos Nakhavka domed church, the main building in the complex (An 1840 earthquake destroyed its dome) connected to the gavit by the only (western) entrance, was rebuilt by the architect Siranes on the initiative of Prince Smbat Orbelian, in 1261. An earthquake in 1321 damaged the building, and was rebuilt possibly by Momik, who had just finished Astvatsatsin Church in neighboring Areni.


The 1931 Siunik Earthquake destroyed much of the site, including the dome of St. Stepanos. Repairs to the roof and the upper walls of the sepulchre-church were made in 1948-1949.The renovation of the entire complex begun in the 1980s and was completed in 2001.


The complex includes the 1339 St. Astvatsatsin (“Burtelashen”) sepulchre-church, St. Stepanos Nakhavka and gavit, the St. Grigor Church and Stepanos Orbelian Sepulchre, the remains of medieval chapels and residential quarters and a modern office and hall.

The text was edited by Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin.