Momik: Noravank

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Noravank 9: Gavit. Lower Sculpture. Upper Sculpture (“God and Adam”). Outer Tombstones. Interior. St. Stepanos.


The gavit lies to the west of the main church of St. Stepanos, and was its formal entrance, an academy, manuscriptorium, and community center. The first gavit was built immediately after the church, and rebuilt in 1261 by the architect Siranes for Prince Smbat Orbelian. Following the 1321 earthquake, the gavit was rebuilt, possibly by Momik, adding a vaulted roof and two of Momik's most outstanding carvings on the tympanum for the door and the upper window arch.

Lower Sculpture

The lower sculpture is of a seated Madonna and Child, set against a richly carved backdrop with large letters interwoven with floral designs of leaves, vines and flowers. Two saints gazing on the central figures, whose pose is typical of medieval figural carvings, while the rich embroidery especially of the throne cloth incorporates Armenian detailing into the design.

Upper Sculpture (“God and Adam”)

The upper window sculpture is a unique creation of God the Father, Adam, Christ and biblical figures. The large carving is deeply engraved, lifting the figures off the background. As opposed to European artists who made associative depictions of the Holy Father (the right hand, a ray of light, etc.) the author of this magnificent sculpture (assumed to be the master Momik) depicted him in human form, as a bearded man. The scene shows God with His right hand lifted above a miniature scene of the crucified Christ, flanked by the Blessed Virgin and John the Evangelist and above the prone figure of the prophet Daniel.

In God the Father's left hand cradles the head of Adam receiving a breath of life from the Holy Spirit (the dove). For medieval Armenians (the vast majority who could not read), the meaning of this stone “picture book” was clear (God gave life with Adam, and then he gave life everlasting with the sacrifice of his son) and compellingly depicted.

This carving shows Momik at the height of his artistic powers, its deep carving said to have been done in part because of his deteriorating eyesight. As opposed to his earlier work at Areni and Gladzor, these relief sculptures fill their tympanums with figures and inscription, and their interplay creates a rhythmic tension that is echoed throughout the building.

Outer Tombstones

Outside the gavit there are a number of tombstones paving the ground. Note those with large carefully carved holes; the holes resemble those found on Bronze Age standing stones that can be found throughout the region. A number of these stones are also inside the gavit and the churches. Standing stones were sometimes converted to khachkars and grave stones in later centuries, their use in cromlechs and ancient observatories granting them a special status by later generations that had long forgotten their original use.

Gavit Interior

About three meters of the walls survive from the original gavit. On them are written inscriptions carved between 1232 to 1256. The building was rebuilt in 1261 for Smbat Orbelian, by the architect Siranes, replacing the wooden roof with a new stone roof in the shape of an enormous tent with a central opening, its design mimicking the wooden roof styles of peasant homes (the “hazarashen”). The roof was replaced again in 1321.

Unique among gavits, there are no central columns to support the roof; wall piers and semi columns bear the entire weight of the support arches. The structure relies on the thickness of the walls and the pier system to keep the roof from collapsing, which explains why it did collapse in later earthquakes. The interior walls are lined with khachkars (stone crosses) and carvings. In the upper northeast corner there is a carving of a figure on a horse attacking a wild lion with his sword. The figure is allegorical, depicting an Orbelian prince.

St. Stepanos

The main church of St. Stepanos was built for Prince Liparit Orbelian (1216-1221). An earthquake destroyed the original dome and the building was rebuilt at least twice.

The church is a domed cruciform with two story annexes in the corners. The second story chambers were used by monks for prayer, study and to create manuscripts, while lower chambers were used as shrines, vestry and to keep the church treasury.

The altar apron has carvings, including designs pointing to the influence of the Georgian court, which supported the liberation of the region from Seljuks by forces led by Ivaneh and Zakareh Zakarian. Along the northern wall is the grave for Prince Smbat Orbelian, built by the medieval architect Siranes in 1275.

The text was edited by Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin.