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Tatev 2: History. Map legend


Tatev's name is traced to St. Eustathius, one of the disciples who accompanied the Apostle Thaddeus to Armenia in the 1st century. A small church was built over the saint's relics in the 4th century (the monastery's first church) and the site was frequented by pilgrims as early as the 5th century. From that time to the 8th century the chronicles are silent, resuming later that century when the Siunik Bishopric was moved to Tatev.

In 839 David, Bishop of Siunik bought the monastery with its adjacent villages from Philip Prince of Siunik. In 844, Prince Philip gave Tatev village to the monastery and commissioned St. Grigor church. Following his example, other princes made donations and commissioned churches—then and in succeeding centuries—resulting in a thriving monastery. Tatev housed the “Cross of Babken” – a human-sized silver cross embedded with a fragment of the True Cross, relics of St. John the Baptist, St. Stephen, eleven Apostles, St. Hripsimeh, St. Gregory the Illuminator, the hair of the Holy Virgin and other relics.

Poghos-Petros cathedral was built in 895-906, during the reign of Bishop Hovhannes, whose peasant upbringing did little to predict his later assent as Bishop of Siunik (actually not a unique experience for the Armenian Church) and the development of the monastery. By the end of the 10th century the monastery had a population of 1,000 clergy and students.

In 1087 St. Astvatsatsin (Holy Virgin) church was dedicated and the monastery entered a 'golden age', with a large matenadaran (library) of 10,000 manuscripts for the expanding academic center. It owned 264 villages in 10 provinces, each paying taxes to the monastery.

This came to an end with the Seljuk invasion in 1170. One year before in 1169, already fearing the Seljuk threat, the monastery sent its entire library to Baghaberd, then the strongest fort in Armenia. The plan failed: the entire library was lost when Seljuks burned the fort to the ground. They also sacked Tatev monastery and robbed the Bishopric of its treasures.

Tatev recovered in the late 12th-early 13th centuries under the Zakarians and Orbelians with new wealth, an expanded university and the spiritual leadership of the region, fostered by the ascendancy of the Metropolitan Stepanos Orbelian, who commissioned a major reconstruction of the monastery, including rebuilding St. Grigor Lusavorich church in 1295. He also ordered the casting of the two large bells that still inhabit the site. In the 14th century, Hovhan Vorotnetsi added a bell tower on the temple gavit. By this time Tatev owned 678 villages, had numerous monasteries under its leadership and was a pan-Armenian center for study, culture and religious patronage.

In the late 14th century Timurids pillaged and burned the monastery and it was not until the 18th century that the Grigor Tatevatsi Mausoleum was added (1787) along with a 16 room school along the eastern wall extension. By 1830 the monastery had two bishops, 10 vardapets (professors) and 62 priests and two deacons supervising a diocese of 70 villages. By the end of the century it controlled less than half as many villages and was finding it increasingly difficult to tax.

In 1920-1921 the Armenian brigade commander Garegin Nzhdeh stayed at Tatev as he planned the defense of Siunik from Turkish and Bolshevik forces. Restored as a bishopric in 1922, the monastery was then immediately shuttered by the Soviets and badly damaged in the 1931 earthquake, which toppled the belfry and collapsed the dome for Poghos-Petros. It was restored to the church in the 1990s and its renovation continues.

Original text edited and approved by the Mother See of Holy Echmiadzin.

Map Legend

1. Ruins
2. Oil Press
3. Defensive Walls
4. Old Gate / Spring
5. East Gate (entry)
6. St. Astvatsatsin church
7. Ruins
8. Stables/Student Dormitory
9. Pilgrim Inn
10. Tatev Matenadaran, Museum
11. Cells and rooms
12. Belfry
13. Poghos-Petros church
14. Arches, khachkars
15. Grigor Tatevatsi Mausoleum
16. St. Grigor Lusavorich church
17. Gavazan
18. Refectory
19. Kitchen
20. Bakery
21. Bishop Residence & Offices
22. Bath
23. 18th century school