Noravank 10: St.Grigor Chapel/Orbelian ("Smbat") Sepulchre
St. Grigor Chapel / Orbelian (“Smbat”) Sepulchre
This small mausoleum-chapel was built for the Orbelians and is sometimes called the “Smbat Sepulchre” for one of those buried inside.
The basilica style chapel was built by the architect Siranes in 1275. The church floor is paved with ten large stones marking the graves of members of Elikum's family. The largest and most elaborate is that of the king himself, showed as a sleeping lion. The hall is simply designed, which was the custom, with a small altar in the semicircular eastern apse.
The vaulted ceiling is supported by arches held up by wall piers and semi-columns.
Carvings include wall doves and different types of cross designs. The altar apron is carved with geometric patterns of squares, four pointed stars and swirling leaf forms, all of which were popular motifs of the era.
The simple design was once livened with wall paintings, traces of which can still be seen. They were elaborate; red and white checkered designs are complemented by swirling sun symbols, elaborate red patterns and diagonal red stripes on the ceiling. Some of the original painting still survive, testament to the durability of their source, the famous Armenian “Vordan Karmir”. This dark red dye (made from an endemic beetle that thrives in the Ararat Valley) was highly sought after for its vivid color and the range of applications; Vordan Karmir was used to dye cloth, to ink manuscripts and paint miniatures, and to create frescoes and wall paintings in churches and royal houses throughout the medieval world. It found its way to Europe, the Near East and as far as China.
The chapel houses a number of Orbelian tomb stones including the carefully carved figure of a sleeping lion near the altar. This is the grave for Elikum (Elikom) Orbelian, son of one of the most powerful Orbelian Princes, Lord Tarsaiyich Orbelian, and the last free prince of the Siunik kingdom.
Elikium's gravestone is marked by a “medallion” of a prone lion, symbolizing his bravery in battle. The inscription reads:
“Handsome Elilium, son of Great Tartsaiyich, who like a lion bravely growled at the enemy. I beg you to remember him in my prayers.”
Other graves include Tarsaiyich, Elikium's mother and brother Smbat.
The Orbelian family was one of the strongest dynasties in Armenian history, certainly in medieval times. Lord Tarsaiyich ruled over vast lands and his period (1273-1290) saw the concentration of church power into Orbelian hands (ca. 1286). During his son Elikium's reign the holdings were divided into three parts, which were reunited again during the reign of his son, Burtegh.
Elikium's brother, Bishop Stepanos, was appointed bishop of Siunik and created a powerful religious counterweight to church leadership in other regions and promoted the development of art, education and architecture. Some of the most important universities, monasteries and artistic centers of the time sprang from this period, including Tatev, Gladzor and Noravank.
During Burtegh's reign arts and culture rose to new heights, the era marked by the activity of the architect and artist Momik. The era saw the construction of the church at Areni (1321), Zorats Cathedral at Yeghegis (also 1321), Spitakavor Astvatsatsin (1322) and the two story Astvatsatsin (“Burtelshen”) at Noravank (1339).
The text was edited by Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin.