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Sanahin 4: Gavits. Seminary (academy) (4)


The gavits (or zhamatuns) front the two churches on their west end and are the largest structures at Sanahin, unique features of Armenian religious architecture. They were used for a variety of purposes—for meetings, instruction and as overflow spaces especially during mass or other gatherings. Their floors are paved with the graves of important religious figures, members of the royalty and community.

The St. Astvastatsin gavit (8), erected in 1211 by order of Prince Vacheh Vachutian is west of St. Astvatsatsin church. It is a triple nave hall covered with vaults and steep double-slope roofs. Two rows of columns (three per row) divide the hall into naves. The columns differ in shapes and ornamentation, and the arcades with low arches and high vaulted ceilings give the space an expressive flavor.

The St. Amenaprkitch or inner gavit (7) was built in 1181 by the architect Zhamhair on behalf and with the assistance of Prince Kurd and the father superior of the monastery, Grigor Tutevordi. There are four large, expressive columns that support the “yerdik” dome, an early example of the use of four-column construction also popular in peasant homes. The columns divide the space into separate parts, their bases and capitals decorated with carvings and reliefs.

Seminary (academy) (4)

The Seminary or “Magistros academy” is set in a gallery at the end of the St. Astvatsatsin gavit and was an original work of civil architecture built in two stages, at the end of the 10th and the beginning of the 11th centuries. The structure includes closely spaced niches in the walls, presumably for students to sit during lectures. The academy focused on the humanitarian sciences while sharing with Haghpat scientific treatises, philosophy, miniature illuminations and calligraphy.

It is named for one of its teachers, the renowned 11th c. Armenian philosopher, writer and scientist Grigor Magistros Pahlavuni (990-1059), whose letters are a treasure trove of information on medieval theology, literature, mythology, politics, natural sciences and medicine. Pahlavuni was not only fascinated by theoretical questions on medicine, he was also a skilled practitioner; in his letters he is well-versed in pathology, clinical medicine and especially in phytotherapy.

Original text edited by ICOMOS-Armenia and approved by the Holy See of Echmiadzin.