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Tatev 6: Poghos-Petros Church(13). Belfry (12).

St. Poghos-Petros Church (13)

Dedicated in 906 by the Catholicos Hovhannes Draskhanakertsi and King Smbat I Bagratuni, the church is Tatev's largest building. It was built for Bishop Ter-Hovhannes to match his position as head of the Siunik Bishopry as well as the important relics housed here. The church was called Poghos-Petros in honour of the relics it houses of apostles Paul (Poghos) and Peter (Petros), found when Ter Hovhannes knocked down the old church in 895 to build the new one.

Ter-Hovhannes was born a peasant but when a young boy he joined the monastery after being sent to tend the mayor's chickens by his stepmother and losing the flock. At the monastery his intellectual prowess was soon recognized and developed. His assent was rapid and he was elected bishop by acclamation.

Exterior: Built at the end of Arab rule, the church was a magnificent testament to the aspirations of a reborn kingdom. Its most noticeable feature is the drum, one of the tallest in Armenia. The façade of the dome and the lower eastern wall have carvings of the donors for the church; Prince Ashot of Siunik, his wife Shushan, Princes Grigor Supan of Gegharkunik, his son Vasak Gabur and Dzagik of Bakhk.

Interior: The inner space is dominated by the great dome; its drum rests on the central square. The walls were originally plastered and covered with frescoes (ca. 930). Surviving fragments include the apse fresco of Christ Enthroned, flanked by prophets and saints, the enormous fresco Day of Judgment on the western wall, and on the north Scenes of the Nativity. The artists were from the monastery school and those recruited from Europe by Bishop Hakop.

As you leave note the gap in the wall just above the entry. It opens onto an alcove where according to legend part of the monastery holy treasure was kept. It was found by invading armies, whose destruction of Armenian churches is attributed to their greedy desire to plunder and destroy.

Belfry (12)

A cathedral bell tower was built in the 14th century, during the tenure of Hovhan Vorotnetsi. It was torn down in the late 19th century and replaced with a 3-storey structure, which collapsed in the 1931 earthquake. The current structure is a partial reconstruction of the later building, which consisted of the lower base you see now, and tapering floors above that ended with a domed rotunda.

Tatev's 14th century bells are a major achievement of bronze casting. They have been in continuous operation for most of the last 700 years, silenced only when the bishopric moved to Goris in 1907 and after a short restoration of the bishopric at Tatev in 1922; silenced again during 70 years of Soviet domination. One bell works now, the other is in the museum (10). The bells were ordered by Stepanos Orbelian. One was cast in 1302 during his lifetime, the other in 1304, after his death.

The bells are quite large, and remarkable for their casting dates. Inscriptions on both bells note their casting date, one commemorating his rise as Bishop and the other a requiem prayer:

“1302. Let me hear, Lord, the voice of triumph and joy. With a sinless birth Ter [master] Stepanos has been called to the throne of Syunik for the glory of his motherland.”

“1304. Let me hear, Lord, Thy Voice: let my wearied bones rejoice. Have mercy, Lord Christ, on Ter Stepanos.”

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