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Zvartnots 4: Composition of the Cathedral.

Composition of the Cathedral

There is a view that the overall design was inspired by an image of the Hand of God, with the palm on the Eastern end and fingers stretching to the west. The actual design is circular, but it is not hard to imagine a hand; the Eastern sanctuary (the palm) was concealed from sight with doors at five points on the main circle (the fingers).

The arms of a cross are made by four massive columns erected on a semi-circular plane, the eastern arm (where the elevated alter apse was placed) ending in a blind wall, covered with mosaic and fresco paintings. The ends of the cross created interior apses, the joints between held mighty pylons that supported the drum and dome by means of a series of spherical pendentives. The columns and the inner arcature for the four apses served as buttresses for the second floor, with a repeated series of supports for the third floor.

Placing the alter on the Eastern side of the church reverses a tradition handed down by a pagan tradition to orient the alter to the west end of the building. The near side of the alter has a stone pulpit with a baptismal font facing it. The vestry room was located immediately behind the alter in the back.

Using an early- medieval central dome design, Zvartnots extended the base to a 37.75 meter diameter circle. The church was built in three tires, with the first and largest housing the congregation. It was girded by a corridor ringing the entire hall. The corridor was lit through the circular windows, one for each facet in the circular outer walls.

In the center there is a large hole with stone steps leading down to the church’s bedrock. This is the reliquary where the relics of St. Grigor were held, directly under the center of the dome. Directly behind the relic chamber is the tall alter apron, with the reconstructed pulpit on its south end.

The main features of the interior were the circular windows, which encircled lower walls. The window casings were edged with carvings of geometric patterns, complementing the large column capitals, frescoes and floor mosaics.

The interior was covered with relief sculptures, frescoes, mosaics, and architectural detailing. Though most of the décor has been lost, a few fragments can still be spotted, some of the best preserved of which are in the complex museum.

The text was edited by ICOMOS/Armenia NGO.