Momik: Noravank

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Noravank 8: St. Karapet Ruins. Khachkars.

St. Karapet Ruins

This small basilica church (9th c) that adjoins the southern wall of the large St. Stepanos and is still in ruins. It is the oldest structure in the complex, most probably built in place of an earlier existing pre-Christian worship siteRemains include a three step platform, traces of three arches that supported a vaulted roof, and a southern antechamber. Built from rough blocks of stone, the church was plastered over and thought to have had frescoes, none of which survive.

The surviving arches are extensions of the north wall, and built from multi-color tufa stone. The arches show the vaulting ran perpendicular to the eastern apse, unusual for the period and pointed out by some to show a more ancient lineage. However, the use of the round arch, once reserved for secular buildings, became a feature of not only early medieval Near East, Byzantine and Romanesque but also Armenian Church architecture.

The space was very small; no more than a handful of worshippers would have been able to fit into the space at a time, suggesting it was reserved primarily for the clergy, and acted as a shrine.

 

There are a number of old gravestones in front of the old church carved with a small hole at one end. Their reason has been variously explained; one thought being they may have been used for burning incense, others suggesting the stones may in fact be prehistoric in nature.

One noticeable stone shows a prone lion, dedicated to a certain Sargis. This type of grave is called a “medal” grave, the lion symbolizing the bravery of the deceased in battle. The inscription reads:

“Here rests Sargis, like a victorious lion in battle, a son of Palka. May he be remembered in my prayers”.


Khachkars

There are some exquisitely carved khachkars (stone crosses) and khachkar fragments in front of the old church. The elaborate khachkars at Noravank include masterpiece works by Momik and his students, considered among the best Armenian carvings of the medieval period. Taught in Cilicia (Kilikia) and exposed to the Gothic Art of Europe via the Crusades, Momik introduced a plasticity and life to his carvings that were revolutionary for the time. He infused his works with extraordinary detail and patterns borrowed from the Near East while lifting his figures from the surface of the stone in a way that was never before seen.

Khachkars hold a special place in Armenian history, worshipped by pilgrims from the very beginning of their tradition. Their iconography is specific, combining the central Cross with a Tree of Life (a figure borrowed from Assyria and Sumeria) and geometric patterning. Sometimes the cross is depicted on top of an elaborate sun symbol, perhaps the oldest worship symbol in Armenian history.

Other khachkars (a few of which are at Noravank) combine the central message of the Resurrection and the Second Coming with carvings of specific saints or martyrs, who were believed to bring a special intercession to those who prayed before their stones. These include khachkars dedicated to the Holy Mother of God, St. Sargis (Sergius), Gevorg (George), Poghos (Paul), Petros (Peter), Stepanos (Stephan), Hovhannes (John), and Grigor (Gregory). A few include the phrase "Lord Jesus…" in the inscription.

Following this tradition, khachkars dedicated to the Holy Mother of God sustain families and mothers while St. Grigor Khachkars give strength and courage to soldiers and All-Savior (Amenaprkich) Khachkars cure various ailments.

The text was edited by Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin.