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Spitakavor 8: St. Astvatsatsin Complex

Spitakavor St. Astvatsatsin Complex

Astvatsatin (also referred to as St. Karapet) church (2) was started by E'achi Ishkhan (d. 1318) and finished in 1321 by his son Amir Hassan II. It is built of polished felsite stone, which gives its name (“Spitak” means white in Armenian). The small base is topped with a tall cylinder drum and conical roof. Seeming fragile, its narrow square and thick walls may actually have prevented it from being entirely destroyed during raids and earthquakes; the drum, dome and walls are so interconnected they create a monolithic structure.

This church was the original repository of a bas-relief portrait of Prince E'achi with his son Amir Hassan II (now in the Hermitage in St. Petersburg) with another of Amir Hassan II at the hunt (State History Museum of Armenia in Yerevan).

The gavit (3) boasts a tympanum over the western entry to the church, with a bas-relief of Astvatsatsin (Mother Mary), showing the Virgin and Child in a very lifelike pose. This bas-relief is considered one of the most important in Armenian design. The framing is from rows of quatrefoils (an ornament with four lobes) that create a stalactite effect and a perspective for the lower vignette.

The interior is a magnificent achievement of architecture, with one element flowing to the next: Semicircular apses are on both east and west ends of the hall, with scallops above the arched windows north and south. The pendentives (triangular supports for the dome) frame the drum, its extreme height accentuating the sense of space in the small building. Interior carvings are rich, including portraits of Jesus and the four evangelists and one showing two figures holding a model of the church (believed to be Prince E'achi and his son Amir Hassan II).

Exterior walls are richly decorated with panels and geometric bas relief sculptures, so similar to those at Noravank they may have been done by the same master. One of the most interesting carvings is the large cross on the east wall with its curiously designed irregular and asymmetric arms which end with pentagonal stars.

Attached to the west wall, the belfry (4) was built in 1330 for the a Hovhannes and wife Tadzna. The courtyard includes a number of ruined foundations for monk cells and other buildings.