Etchmiadzin Cathedral

Etchmiadzin, Echmiadzin, Ejmiatsin lead to this page. For other uses, see Etchmiadzin
Etchmiadzin Cathedral
View of the cathedral from the south-east, 2010
Basic information
Location Vagharshapat, Armavir Province, Armenia
Geographic coordinates
Affiliation Armenian Apostolic Church
Rite Armenian
Status Active
Leadership Catholicos of All Armenians
Architectural description
Architectural type Cathedral
Architectural style Armenian
Founder Gregory the Illuminator (original)
Groundbreaking 301 (original building; traditional date)[1]
Completed 303 (original building; traditional date)[1]
Length 33 metres (108 ft)[2]
Width 30 metres (98 ft)[2]
Height (max) not available; over 27 metres (89 ft)[upper-alpha 1]
Official name: Cathedral and Churches of Echmiatsin and the Archaeological Site of Zvartnots
Type Cultural
Criteria ii, iii
Designated 2000 (24th session)
Reference no. 1011
Region Western Asia

Etchmiadzin Cathedral[upper-alpha 2] (Armenian: Էջմիածնի Մայր տաճար, Ēǰmiatsni Mayr tačar) is the mother church of the Armenian Apostolic Church,[upper-alpha 3] located in the city of Vagharshapat, Armenia.[upper-alpha 4] According to most scholars,[upper-alpha 5] it was the first cathedral (but not the first church)[upper-alpha 6] built in ancient Armenia, and is considered the oldest cathedral in the world.[upper-alpha 7]

The original church was built in the early fourth century[32]—between 301 and 303 according to tradition—by Armenia's patron saint Gregory the Illuminator, following the adoption of Christianity as a state religion by King Tiridates III. It replaced a preexisting temple, symbolizing the conversion from paganism to Christianity. The core of the current building was built in 483/4 by Vahan Mamikonian after the cathedral was severely damaged in a Persian invasion. From its foundation until the second half of the fifth century, Etchmiadzin was the seat of the Catholicos, the supreme head of the Armenian Church.

Although never losing its significance, the cathedral subsequently suffered centuries of virtual neglect. In 1441 it was restored as catholicosate and remains as such to this day.[33] Etchmiadzin was plundered by Shah Abbas I of Persia in 1604, when relics and stones were taken out of the cathedral in an effort to undermine Armenians' attachment to their land. Since then the cathedral has undergone a number of renovations. Belfries were added in the latter half of the seventeenth century and in 1868 a sacristy was constructed at the cathedral's east end.[2] Today, it incorporates styles of different periods of Armenian architecture. Diminished during the early Soviet period, Etchmiadzin revived again in the second half of the twentieth century, and under independent Armenia.[2]

As the main spiritual center of most Armenians worldwide, Etchmiadzin has been an important location in Armenia not only religiously, but also politically, economically and culturally.[34] A major pilgrimage site, it is one of the most visited places in the country.[35] Along with several important early medieval churches located nearby, the cathedral was listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2000.


  • History 1
    • Foundation and etymology 1.1
    • Reconstruction and decline 1.2
    • From revival to plunder 1.3
    • 17th-18th centuries 1.4
    • Russian takeover 1.5
    • 20th century and on 1.6
      • Soviet suppression 1.6.1
      • Revival 1.6.2
  • Architecture 2
    • Exterior design 2.1
      • Reliefs 2.1.1
    • Interior design 2.2
    • Influence 2.3
      • On Armenian architecture 2.3.1
      • On European architecture 2.3.2
  • Significance 3
  • Cultural depictions 4
  • References 5
  • Bibliography 6
  • External links 7


A relief of Gregory the Illuminator on the cathedral.

Foundation and etymology

According to tradition, the cathedral was built between 301 and 303[4][upper-alpha 8] near the royal palace in then Armenian capital city of Vagharshapat,[1] on the location of a pagan temple.[upper-alpha 9] The Kingdom of Armenia under Tiridates III became the first country in the world to adopt Christianity as a state religion in 301.[upper-alpha 10] According to History of the Armenians (c. 460) by Agathangelos, Armenia's patron saint Gregory the Illuminator had a vision of Jesus Christ descending from heaven and striking the earth with a golden hammer to show where the cathedral should be built. Hence, the patriarch gave the church the name of Etchmiadzin (էջ ēĵ "descent" + մի mi "only" + -ա- -a- (linking element) + ծին tsin "begotten"),[46] which translates to "the Descent of the Only-Begotten [Son of God]."[2][20] However, the name Etchmiadzin did not come into use until the 15th century,[4] while earlier sources call it "Cathedral of Vagharshapat" (Վաղարշապատի Կաթողիկե եկեղեցի Vağaršapati Kat'oğike ekeghetsi)[47][48] or simply Kat'oghike (Կաթողիկե, literally "Cathedral").[37][upper-alpha 11] The Feast of the Cathedral of Holy Etchmiadzin (Տոն Կաթողիկե Սբ. Էջմիածնի) is celebrated by the Armenian Church 64 days after Easter, during which "a special hymn is sung, written by the 8th century Catholicos Sahak III of Dzorapor, telling of St. Gregory's vision and the Cathedral's construction."[49]

The form of the original 4th-century church
as proposed by Alexander Sahinian (1966)[50]
ground plan side cross section view
façade cross section view

During archaeological excavations at the cathedral in 1955-56 and 1959, led by architectural historian Alexander Sahinian, remains of the original 4th-century building were discovered—including two levels of pillar bases below the current ones and a narrower altar apse under the present one.[1][37] Based on these findings, Sahinian asserted that the original church had been a three-naved[51] vaulted basilica,[1] similar to the basilicas of Tekor, Ashtarak and Aparan (Kasakh).[52] However, other scholars, have rejected Sahinian's view. Among them, Suren Yeremian and Armen Khatchatrian held that the original church had been in the form of a rectangle with a dome supported by four pillars.[51] Stepan Mnatsakanian suggested that the original building had been a "canopy erected on a cross [plan]," while architecture researcher Vahagn Grigoryan suggests an "extreme view,"[53] according to which the cathedral has been essentially in the same form as it is today.[51]

Reconstruction and decline

The ground plan of the cathedral after the 5th century reconstruction.

According to Faustus of Byzantium, the cathedral and the city of Vagharshapat were almost completely destroyed during the invasion of Persian King Shapur II in the 360s[54] (circa 363).[2][55] Due to Armenia's bad economic conditions, the cathedral was renovated by Catholicoi Nerses the Great (r. 353–373) and Sahak Parthev (r. 387–439) only urgently and partially.[32]

In 387, Armenia was partitioned between the Roman Empire and the Sasanian Empire. The eastern part of Armenia where Etchmiadzin was located remained under the rule of Armenian vassal kings subject to Persia until 428, when the Armenian Kingdom was dissolved.[56] In 450, in an attempt to impose Zoroastrianism on Armenians, Sasanian King Yazdegerd II built a fire temple inside the cathedral.[5] The pyre of the fire temple was unearthed under the altar of the east apse during the excavations in the 1950s.[37][upper-alpha 12]

By the last quarter of the 5th century the cathedral was dilapidated.[57] According to Ghazar Parpetsi, it was rebuilt from the foundations by marzban (governor) of Persian Armenia Vahan Mamikonian in 483/4,[58] when the country was relatively stable,[59] following the struggle for religious freedom against Persia.[58] Most[57] researchers have concluded that, thus, the church was converted into cruciform church and mostly took its current form.[upper-alpha 13] The new church was very different from the original one and "consisted of quadric-apsidal hall built of dull, grey stone containing four free-standing cross-shaped pillars disdained to support a stone cupola." The new cathedral was "in the form of a square enclosing a Greek cross and contains two chapels, one on either side of the east apse."[2] According to Robert H. Hewsen, the design of the new church was a mixture of the design of a Zoroastrian fire temple and a mausoleum of classical antiquity.[2]

Although the seat of the Catholicos was transferred to Dvin sometime in the 460s–470s[60] or 484,[61][62] the cathedral never lost its significance and remained "one of the greatest shrines of the Armenian Church."[63] The last known renovations until the 15th century were made by Catholicos Komitas in 618 (according to Sebeos) and Catholicos Nerses III (r. 640–661).[2][37] During these centuries of neglect, the cathedral's "condition deteriorated so badly"[64] that it prompted the prominent archbishop Stepanos Orbelian to write one of his most notable poems, "Lament on Behalf of the Cathedral" («Ողբ ի դիմաց Կաթողիկէին» Voğb i dimats Katoğikein) in 1300.[upper-alpha 14] In the poem, which tells about the consequences of the Mongol and Mamluk invasions of Armenia and Cilicia, Orbelian portrays the Etchmiadzin Cathedral "as a woman in mourning, contemplating her former splendor and exhorting her children to return to their homeland [...] and restore its glory."[67]

From revival to plunder

Following the fall of the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia in 1375, the See of Sis experienced decline and disarray. The Catholicosate of Aghtamar and the locally influential Syunik bishops enhanced the importance of the region around Etchmiadzin. In 1441 a general council of several hundred religious figures met in Etchmiadzin and voted to reestablish a catholicosate there.[68] The cathedral was restored by Catholicos Kirakos (Cyriacus) between 1441 and 1443.[2] At that time Etchmiadzin was under the control of the Kara Koyunlu, but in 1502, Safavid Iran gained control of parts of Armenia, including Etchmiadzin, and granted the Armenian Church some privileges.[69]

During the 16th and 17th centuries, Armenia suffered from its location between Persia and

External links

Academic articles

  • Corley, Felix (1996). "The Armenian Church Under the Soviet Regime" (PDF). Religion, State & Society (  
  • Grigoryan, Vahagn (2012a). "Ագաթանգեղոսի "Հայոց պատմությունը" և Հայաստանի վաղ միջնադարի ճարտարապետության ուսումնասիրության խնդիրները [Agathangeghos’s "History of Armenia" and Problems in the Study of the Early Medieval Armenian Architecture]".  
  • Grigoryan, Vahagn (2012b). "Մայր տաճարի հնագույն երեք քանդակների թվագրման խնդիրը [The Problem of Dating the Three Earliest Reliefs of the Echmiadzin Cathedral]". Patma-Banasirakan Handes (in Հայերեն) (Yerevan: Armenian Academy of Sciences) (3): 3–20.  
  • Grigoryan, Vahagn (1986). "Էջմիածնի մայր տաճարը [Cathedral of Etchmiadzin]".  
  • Harutiunian, Z. (1978). "Էջմիածին. Պատմական ակնարկ [Etchmiadzin: Historical Overview]".  
  • Khatchatrian, Armen (1962). "Données historiques sur la fondation d'Edjmiatsin à la lumière des fouilles récentes [Historical data on the foundation of Edjmiatsin in the light of recent excavations]".  
  • Sahinian, Alexander (1978). "Մոդուլային համակարգը Էջմիածնի Մայր տաճարի V դարի գմբեթակիր կառուցվածքում [The Module System in the 5th Century Cupola Structures of the Cathedral of Echmiadzin]". Patma-Banasirakan Handes (in Հայերեն) (Yerevan: Armenian Academy of Sciences) (2): 140–158. 
  • Sahinian, Alexander; Zarian, A.; Ghazarian, M. (1978). "Էջմիածնի Մայր Տաճար [Etchmiadzin Cathedral]".  
  • Ter-Movsisian, Mesrovb (1907). "Էջմիածին եւ հայոց հնագոյն եկեղեցիներ [Etchmiadzin and ancient Armenian churches]".  

Published books

  • Ashjian, Mesrob, ed. (2003). The Etchmiadzin chronicles (in English, Italian, Russian, German, French, and Armenian). Yerevan: Moughni Publishers.  
  • Bastamiants, Vahan (1877). Նկարագրութիւն Մայր եկեղեցիոյն հայոց Ս. Էջմիածնի [Description of Mother Church of Holy Ejmiatsin] (in Armenian and Russian). Vagharshapat. 
  • Buxton, David Roden (1975). Russian Mediaeval Architecture with an Account of the Transcaucasian Styles and Their Influence in the West. New York: Hacker Art Books. Cambridge University Press Reprint of the 1934 ed. published by the  
  • Harutyunyan, Varazdat; Société pour la protection des monuments historiques et culturels de la RSS d'Arménie (1985). Etchmiadsin (in Français). Yerevan: Hayastan.  
  • Harutyunyan, Varazdat (1988). Եկայք շինեսցուք: Պատմութիւն Ս. Էջմիածնի Մայր Աթոռի շինարարական գործունէութեան Ամենայն Հայոց Կաթողիկոս Վազգէն Առաջինի գահակալութեան շրջանում (1955–1988) [History of construction activities at the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin during the reign of Vazgen I (1955–1988)] (in Հայերեն). Los Angeles: Erebuni. 
  • Kazarian, Armen (2007). Кафедральный собор Сурб Эчмиадзин и восточнохристианское зодчество IV-VII веков [Cathedral of Holy Ejmiacin and the Eastern Christian architecture of the 4th-7th centuries] (in Русский). Moscow: Locus Standi.  
  • Miller, Julie A. (1996). "Echmiadzin (Armenia)". In Ring, Trudy; Salkin, Robert M.; La Boda, Sharon. International Dictionary of Historic Places: Middle East and Africa 4. Chicago:  
  • Parsamian, Vardan (1931). Էջմիածինն անցյալում: Պատմական ուսումնասիրության փորձ [Etchmiadzin in the past: An attempt of historical research] (in Հայերեն). Pethrat: Yerevan. 
  • Sahinian, Alexander (1978). Ս. Էջմիածին / Св. Эчмиадзин / St. Etchmiadzine (in Armenian, Russian, and French). Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin.  
  • Shahkhatunian, Hovhannes (1842). Ստորագրութիւն Կաթուղիկէ Էջմիածնի եւ հինգ գաւառացն Արարատայ [Description of the Cathedral of Ejmiacin and of the Five Districts of Ararat], 2 vols (in Հայերեն). Holy Ejmiacin. 
  • Նկարագրութիւն Սուրբ Էջմիածնի Մայր տաճարի [Description of the Holy Etchmiadzin Cathedral] (in Հայերեն). Vagharshapat: Holy Etchmiadzin Cathedral Publishing. 1890.  
  • Ս. Էջմիածին 303-1903: Պատկերազարդ նկարագրութիւն [Holy Etchmiadzin 303-1903: Illustrated description] (in Հայերեն). San Lazzaro degli Armeni, Venice:  
  • Սուրբ Էջմիածին: 1600-րդ տարեդարձ (303-1903) [Holy Etchmiadzin: 1600th anniversary (303-1903)] (in Հայերեն). Saint Petersburg: Pushkinean Aragatip. 1903.  


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  35. ^ "The number of foreign tourists visiting Armenia expected to surge to one million". ARKA News Agency. 30 June 2014. Foreign tourists usually visit the pagan temple of Garni, Geghard Monastery, Holy Etchmiadzin and Lake Sevan. 
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  37. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s "Etchmiadzin". Armenian Studies Program  
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  56. ^  
  57. ^ a b Hasratyan 2003, p. 269.
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  72. ^ a b Sanjian, Avedis Krikor (1999). Medieval Armenian Manuscripts at the University of California, Los Angeles. Berkeley: University of California Press. p. 40.  
  73. ^ a b Babaie, Sussan (2004). Slaves of the Shah: New Elites of Safavid Iran. London: I. B. Tauris. p. 56.  
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  77. ^ Matthee, Rudi (2012). Persia in Crisis: Safavid Decline and the Fall of Isfahan. New York:  
  78. ^ Sears, Robert (1855). An Illustrated Description of the Russian Empire. New York: Robert Sears. p. 295. 
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  84. ^ a b Adalian 2010, p. 130.
  85. ^ Adalian 2010, p. 301.
  86. ^ Barrett, David B.; Kurian, George Thomas; Johnson, Todd M. (2001). World Christian encyclopedia: a comparative survey of churches and religions in the modern world, Volume 1 (2nd ed.). Oxford University Press. p. 78.  
  87. ^ Rev. Samuel G. Wilson (November 1905).  
  88. ^  
  89. ^ Asatryan, Hayk (2004). Հատընտիր [Selection] (PDF) (in Հայերեն). Yerevan: Republican Party of Armenia. p. 332.  
  90. ^ Ayvazian, Arthur A. (1985). Armenian victories at Khznavous and Sardarabad on May 23, 1918: and program for re-establishment of independent and neutral state of Armenia. New York: St. Vartan Press. p. 14.  
  91. ^ Kayaloff, Jacques (1973). The Battle of Sardarabad. The Hague:  
  92. ^ Sukiasyan, H. (2014). "Եկեղեցու սեփականության բռնագրավումը Խորհրդային Հայաստանում (1920 թ. դեկտեմբեր – 1921 թ. փետրվար) [Expropriation of church in Soviet Armenia (December 1920-February 1921)]".  
  93. ^ Harutyunyan 1984, p. 56.
  94. ^ Burchard, Christopher (1993). Armenia and the Bible: papers presented to the international symposium held at Heidelberg, July 16-19, 1990. Atlanta:  
  95. ^ Corley 1996, p. 9.
  96. ^ Corley, Felix (2010). "The Armenian Apostolic Church". In Leustean, Lucian N. Eastern Christianity and the Cold War, 1945–91. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge. p. 190.  
  97. ^ According to  
  98. ^ Central Diocesan Board (1958). Crisis in the Armenian church: text of a memorandum to the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America on the dissident Armenian Church in America. Boston: Armenian National Apostolic Church of America. pp. 22–23. 
  99. ^ Corley 1996, p. 18.
  100. ^ Corley 1996, p. 21.
  101. ^  
  102. ^ Corley 1996, p. 25.
  103. ^ "Cathedral and Churches of Echmiatsin and the Archaeological Site of Zvartnots". UNESCO. Retrieved 26 October 2013. 
  104. ^  
  105. ^ a b "Renovation of the Mother Cathedral". Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin. 10 June 2014. Archived from the original on 4 July 2014. 
  106. ^ "Խորհրդակցություն Մայր տաճարի վերականգնման հարցերի շուրջ [Consultation on the Mother Cathedral's restoration issue]".  
  107. ^ Jordan, Robert Paul (June 1978). "The Proud Armenians" (PDF). The National Geographic Magazine (Washington, D.C.:  
  108. ^ Zorkin, Anton (2013). "Путешествие по весенней Армении: день первый [Journey through spring in Armenia: day first]" (in Русский). National Geographic Russia. Эчмиадзинский монастырь [...] впечатляет своим аскетизмом... 
  109. ^ Telfer, John Buchan (29 May 1891). "Armenia and Its People". Journal of the Society of Arts (London:  
  110. ^ Mikhailov, Nicholas; Pokshishevsky, Vadim (1948). Soviet Russia: the Land and Its People Volume 25. George H. Hanna (translator). New York: Sheridan House. p. 125. 
  111. ^ Sahinian 1966, p. 71: "Նրա կառուցվածքը ակնհայտորեն վերարտադրում է հայկական ճարտարապետության կազմավորման հանգուցային մի քանի կարևորագույն շրջանները, որով և բացառիկ տեղ է գրավում Հայաստանի (և ոչ միայն Հայաստանի) ճարտարապետական-կառուցողական արվեստի պատմության մեջ:"
  112. ^ Chahin, Mack (2001). The Kingdom of Armenia: A History (2nd revised ed.). Richmond: Curzon Press. p. Z-72.  
  113. ^ Adalian 2010, p. 298.
  114. ^ Arakelian et al. 1984, p. 594: "...Թեկղի և Պողոս (Էջմիածնի Մայր տաճարի հյուսիսային պատի վրա դրսից արված քանդակները)..."
  115. ^ a b Der Nersessian 1945, p. 95.
  116. ^ a b Grigoryan 2012b, p. 20.
  117. ^ Shahkhatunian 1842.
  118. ^ Grigoryan 2012b, p. 9.
  119. ^ Sahinian, Zarian & Ghazarian 1978, pp. 72–73.
  120. ^ Sahinian, Zarian & Ghazarian 1978, p. 73.
  121. ^ Մայր Տաճար > Պատմություն. (in Հայերեն). Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin. 
  122. ^ Thierry & Donabedian 1989, p. 599.
  123. ^  
  124. ^ Mnatsakanian 1987, p. 157: "Можно отметить лишь одно сооружение—храм в Багаране, который в значительной степени повторяет общую структуру Эчмиадзинского храма, хотя здесь резко изменена вся пропорциональная система."
  125. ^ Thierry & Donabedian 1989, p. 66.
  126. ^ a b Thierry & Donabedian 1989, p. 308.
  127. ^  
  128. ^ Chorbajian, Levon (1994). The Caucasian Knot: The History & Geopolitics of Nagorno-Karabagh. London:  
  129. ^ Buxton 1975, p. 74.
  130. ^ Buxton 1975, p. 98.
  131. ^  
  132. ^ Buxton 1975, p. 100.
  133. ^ Hasratyan 2003, p. 270.
  134. ^  
  135. ^  
  136. ^  
  137. ^ Davidson, Linda Kay; Gitlitz, David M. (2002). Pilgrimage: From the Ganges to Graceland: An Encyclopedia, Volume 1. Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO.  
  138. ^ Historical Section of the Foreign Office (1920). Caucasia. London: Her Majesty's Stationery Office. p. 49. Echmiadzin, in the Government of Erivan, the residence of the Armenian Patriarch, was regarded as the national capital of the Armenians. 
  139. ^  
  140. ^  
  141. ^  
  142. ^ Creagh, James (1880). Armenians, Koords and Turks. London: Samuel Tinsley & Co. pp. 261–262. 
  143. ^ Villari, Luigi (1906). Fire and Sword in the Caucasus. London: T. F. Unwin. p. 233. 
  144. ^ Elliott, Mabel Evelyn (1924). Beginning Again at Ararat. New York: Fleming H. Revell Company. p. 321. 
  145. ^ Էջմիածին" ամսագիր [Etchmiadzin monthly]""" (in Հայերեն). Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin. Archived from the original on 31 March 2014. 
  146. ^ "Mayrig/Mother (Full Movie in French)". YouTube. Retrieved 31 March 2014. 
  147. ^ "Banknotes in circulation - 50000 drams".  
  1. ^ Grigoryan wrote in 1986 that even the main dimensions of the cathedral are unknown.[6] The belfry, which is shorter than the dome, is reportedly 27 metres (89 ft) high.[7]
  2. ^ Less commonly referred to as the Cathedral of Holy Etchmiadzin,[8][9] Holy Etchmiadzin (Սուրբ Էջմիածին, Surb Ejmiatsin) or simply Etchmiadzin. Alternatively spelled Echmiadzin, Ejmiatsin,[10] and Edjmiadsin.[11]
  3. ^ The cathedral is also the central building of the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin, the administrative headquarters of the Armenian Church, which besides the cathedral includes a number of buildings, most prominent of which is the Pontifical Residence (Veharan), the official seat of the Catholicos of All Armenians. The entire complex is sometimes referred to as Monastery of Etchmiadzin.[2]
  4. ^ The city has been called Vagharshapat for the most part of its history. It officially bore the name Etchmiadzin between 1945 and 1995. Nowadays, the terms Etchmiadzin and Vagharshapat are interchangeably used.[12]
  5. ^ Architecture researcher Vahagn Grigoryan,[13] author & former priest Torkom Postajian,[14] historians Tadevos Hakobyan,[15] Z. Harutiunian,[16] and orientalist Hasmik Hmayakyan,[17] support the view of Etchmiadzin being Armenia's first cathedral. Robert W. Thomson, commenting on Agathangelos' History of the Armenians, writes that Etchmiadzin was neither the first church nor the first cathedral in Armenia.[18]
  6. ^ Etchmiadzin is sometimes called Armenia's first church building.[19][20] However, this claim has found little support among scholars. Thomson,[18] Mnatsakanian,[21] and Grigoryan[22] have all rejected this claim and stated that Armenia's first church was in Ashtishat, in Western Armenia's Taron region.
  7. ^ According to Encyclopedia of the Peoples of Africa and the Middle East, it is "generally regarded" as the oldest cathedral in the world,[23] while historian of Christian-Muslim relations Steven Gertz wrote in Christianity Today that Etchmiadzin is regarded as such "according to some scholars."[24] Among those who support this view are French-Armenian architect Édouard Utudjian,[25] Armenologists Sarkis Papajian,[26] Elisabeth Bauer-Manndorff,[27] priest & professor of liturgical studies Michael Daniel Findikyan,[28] and others.[29][30][31]
  8. ^ Malachia Ormanian suggested that the cathedral was built within seven months, from February to August 303 because "the construction material was ready and the building was not huge and probably, partially made of wood and the people's desire and effort [to build the cathedral] was great." He added, "It's not impossible to think that the base of the preexisting temple could have been used." Architecture researcher Vahagn Grigoryan dismisses these dates as "impossible" and states that at least several years were needed to built the cathedral. He cites Agathangelos, who does not mention the cathedral in an episode that took place in 306. He instead suggests the usage of the span of 302 to 325—the reign of Gregory the Illuminator as Catholicos.[36]
  9. ^ Alexander Sahinian dated the temple to the Urartian period.[32] (An Urartian stele was uncovered during archaeological excavations in the 1950s).[37] The temple was dedicated to either goddess Anahit[38][39] or archangel Sandaramet,[4][17][40] both figures in Armenian mythology.
  10. ^ 301 AD is the traditional date,[41] first calculated by historian Mikayel Chamchian.[42] A growing number of authors argue that the correct date is 314 by citing the Edict of Milan.[43][44] Elizabeth Redgate writes that "the scholarly consensus is to prefer c. 314."[45]
  11. ^ Malachia Ormanian defined "katoghike" as "cathedral" and wrote that the word was used particularly for the Etchmiadzin Cathedral. In modern Armenian, "katoghike" is also used to refer to the Catholic Church. It is derived from the Ancient Greek word καθολικός katholikos, which means "universal". The cathedral has been so called as a description of the "universality" of the Church.[49]
  12. ^ The remains of the 4th century apse, the fire temple and other architectural details are now kept at a special structure built relatively recently under the east apse.[5]
  13. ^ "In 483/484 ... the basic core of the current structure was created..."[2] "483-484 Reconstructed by Vahan Mamikonyan. Etchmiadzin develops the design we see today."[7]
  14. ^ The complete title is "Allegorical prosopopoeia on the Holy Cathedral at Vagharshapat"[65] («Բան բարառնական ոդեալ դիմառնաբար ի դիմաց Վաղարշապատու ս. Կաթուղիկէին» Ban barařnakan vodeal dimařnabar i dimats Vagharshapatu s. Katoğikein). It was first printed in Nor Nakhichevan in 1790, later in Kolkata in 1846 and in Tiflis in 1885.[66]
  15. ^ " Germigny-des-Prés (on the Loire, near Orleans) is an exact reproduction of the Armenian apse-buttressed square with free central pillars, dating from the ninth century. The latter type occurs also at Milan (San Satiro). In both cases the plan closely resembles that of Bagaran in Armenia."[132]


  • The Etchmiadzin weekly («Էջմիածին» ամսագիր), the official periodical of the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin founded in 1944, features the cathedral on its cover page as newspaper logo.[145]
  • In the 1991 film Mayrig, directed by French-Armenian director Henri Verneuil, actual footage of the cathedral is shown when Azad Zakarian, the main character and a son of Armenian Genocide survivors, is being questioned about his faith in a Catholic school.[146]
  • The Soviet Union and Armenia issued postage stamps depicting the cathedral in 1978 and 2009, respectively.
  • The cathedral is depicted on the obverse side of 50,000-dram banknote (2001).[147]

Cultural depictions

Mabel Evelyn Elliott, the Medical Director of Near East Relief, wrote about the cathedral's longevity in 1924:[144]

American journalist and historian Francis Whiting Halsey described the cathedral as "the most treasured possession of the Armenian nation" and "the source of that strength which has held them together through centuries of persecution, warfare and massacre."[140] German naturalist and traveler Friedrich Parrot, who with the renown Armenian writer Khachatur Abovian conquered the summit of Mount Ararat in 1829 for the first time in history, called the cathedral the "palladium of the Armenians."[141] Royal Navy Captain James Creagh highlighted its immense role for the Armenian people in his 1880 book, writing that "The monastery and cathedral of Echmiadzin may, without any exaggeration, be described as the heart of the Armenian nation."[142] Italian historian and traveler Luigi Villari wrote about the cathedral in 1906:[143]

For many centuries, Etchmiadzin was the national and political center of the stateless Armenian people. The locus of Etchmiadzin is considered "a sanctified soil" in a way similar to Temple Mount (for Jews) and Harmandir Sahib (for Sikhs).[134] The cathedral complex has been called "Armenian Vatican"[135] or "Armenian Mecca"[136] as it is a major pilgrimage site for religious Armenians worldwide. Because the cathedral has been so important to the development of Armenians' sense of identity, a pilgrimage to Etchmiadzin is "as much as ethnic as a religious experience."[137] Before the foundation of the First Republic of Armenia and the official designation of Yerevan as its capital in 1918, Western sources emphasized Etchmiadzin's political significance. A 1920 book prepared by the Historical Section of the British Foreign Office acknowledged that Etchmiadzin "was regarded as the national capital of the Armenians."[138] "Deprived of a political head and even a political capital the [Armenian] people have, for at least five hundred years, looked to Etchmiadzin as the home of their people, the centre to which they looked for guidance, unfailing sympathy, and practical aid," wrote Welsh journalist and politician W. Llewelyn Williams in his 1916 book about Armenia.[139]

Etchmiadzin depicted on a 2009 Armenian stamp


Art historian Josef Strzygowski, who was the first European to thoroughly study Armenian architecture,[129] and who placed Armenia in the center of European architecture,[130] suggested in his 1918 two-volume book titled Die Baukunst der Armenier und Europa (The Architecture of the Armenians and of Europe)[131] that several churches and chapels in Western Europe have been influenced by the cathedrals of Etchmiadzin and Bagaran "because of the similarity in plans."[37] According to Strzygowski, some examples of churches influenced by Etchmiadzin and Bagaran are the 9th-century church of Germigny-des-Prés in France (built by Odo of Metz, probably an Armenian) and San Satiro of Milan, Italy.[upper-alpha 15] This view was later supported by Alexander Sahinian and Varazdat Harutyunyan.[37] Sahinian suggested that the Armenian church architecture was spread in Western Europe in the 8th–9th centuries by Paulicians, who migrated from Armenia en mase after being suppressed by the Byzantine government during the Iconoclasm period. Sahinian added many other medieval churches in Europe, such as the Palatine Chapel of Aachen in Germany, to the list of churches to have been influenced by the cathedrals of Etchmiadzin and Bagaran and by Byzantine decorative arts.[59] According Murad Hasratyan, Etchmiadzin’s design was spread to Europe via the Byzantine Empire and served as a model—besides Germigny-des-Prés and San Satiro—for the Nea Ekklesia church in Constantinople and the churches of Mount Athos in Greece.[133]

On European architecture

The design of the Etchmiadzin Cathedral—classified as "a four-apsed square with ciborium,"[122] and called Էջմիածնատիպ Ejmiatsnatip "Etchmiadzin-type" in Armenian architectural historiography[59]—was not common in Armenia in the early Medieval period. The now-destroyed St. Theodore Church of Bagaran, dating from 624-631,[123] was the only known church with a significantly similar plan and structure from that period.[124][125] In the 19th century, during an architectural revival that looked back to Armenia's past, the plan of the Etchmiadzin Cathedral began to be directly copied in new Armenian churches.[126] Some notable examples from this period include the narthex of the St. Thaddeus Monastery in northern Iran, dating from 1811,[126] and the Ghazanchetsots Cathedral in Shusha, dating from 1868.[127][128]

On Armenian architecture

The present-day ground plan of Etchmiadzin


In the 1950s, the stone floor was replaced with one of marble.[2]

The wooden doors of the cathedral were carved in Tiflis in 1889.[2] The paintings were moved out of the cathedral by the order of Catholicos Mkrtich Khrimian in 1891 and are now kept in various museums in Armenia, including the National Gallery of Armenia.[37] The frescoes inside the cathedral were restored by Lydia Durnovo in 1956[120] and in 1981-82 under the directorship of Vardges Baghdasaryan.[121]

The early frescoes inside the cathedral were restored in the 18th century. Stepanos Lehatsi illustrated the belfry in 1664. In the 18th and 19th centuries, Armenian painters created frescoes of scenes from the old testament and Armenian saints.[2] Naghash Hovnatan painted parts of the interior between 1712 and 1721. His paintings on the dome and the painting of the Mother of God under the altar have survived to this day. Other members of the prominent Hovnatanian family (Hakob, Harutyun and Hovnatan) created paintings throughout the 18th century. Their work was continued by the succeeding generations of the same family (Mkrtum and Hakob) in the 19th century.[119]

Interior design

The northern wall of the cathedral contains two reliefs which depict Paul the Apostle and Saint Thecla[114] and a cross with all arms of equal length with Greek inscriptions.[37] Paul and Thecla are represented in conversation, Paul is shown seated on cross-legged stool.[115] These reliefs have been dated by various authors between the first and sixth centuries.[116] Shahkhatunian[117] and Ghevont Alishan suggested that these reliefs were created before the invention of the Armenian alphabet in 405.[118] Sirarpie Der Nersessian believed that they are from the fifth or sixth century.[115] In his 2012 analysis, Grigoryan wrote that "we can insist that the three reliefs of the Echmiadzin Cathedral were created from the very beginning, in 302–325."[116] They are believed to be the earliest reliefs on the cathedral walls.[58]


The cathedral's external appearance has been described as "austere",[107] "ascetic",[108] "unostentatious",[109] and "a massive cube surmounted by a faceted cone on a simple cylinder."[110] Robert H. Hewsen writes that it is "neither the largest nor the most beautiful of Armenian churches", nevertheless, "the overall impression presented by the ensemble is inspiring, and Armenians hold the building in great reverence."[2] Alexander Sahinian declared that Etchmiadzin holds a unique position in Armenian (and non-Armenian) architecture history because it reproduces features of different periods of Armenian architecture.[111][112] Despite the fact that the cathedral was renovated many times through the centuries and some alterations were made in the 17th and 19th centuries, it retains the form of the building constructed in 483/4.[2][37][113] The 5th-century building is the core of the cathedral, while the stone cupola, turrets, belfry, and rear extension are all later additions.[2] "The rich ensemble of sculpture on the exterior of the church is of more recent times. It includes geometric and floral motifs, as well as a blind arcade and medallions with saintly figures."[37] Portions of the northern and eastern walls of the original building have survived.[54]

Exterior design

Today, Etchmiadzin "has a cruciform plan with a central cupola, four free-standing piers, and four projecting apses which are semicircular on the interior and polygonal on the exterior. The central piers, cruciform in section, divide the interior space into nine equal square compartments."[37]

Front view


In 2000[105] Etchmiadzin underwent a renovation prior to the celebrations of the 1700th anniversary of the Christianization of Armenia in 2001.[7] The latest renovation of the cathedral began in 2012,[105] with a focus on strengthening and restoring the dome and the roof.[106]

In 2000 UNESCO added the Etchmiadzin Cathedral, the churches of St. Hripsime, St. Gayane, Shoghakat and the ruined Zvartnots Cathedral to the list of World Heritage Sites.[103] In 2002, the Etchmiadzin Cathedral complex with over 50 monuments, including many khachkars (cross-stones) and graves located around the cathedral, was listed by the Government of Armenia in the list of historical and cultural monuments of the Armavir Province.[104]

Etchmiadzin revived under Catholicos [7] Gulbenkian alone provided $400,000.[102]


The Etchmiadzin Cathedral

[101] in 1961.Walter Kolarz Nevertheless, the cathedral's role was downplayed by the Communist official circles. "For them the ecclesiastical Echmiadzin belongs irrevocably to the past, and even if the monastery and the cathedral are occasionally the scene of impressive ceremonies including the election of a new catholicos, this has little importance from the communist point of view," wrote [100] In 1945 Catholicos [99] The religious importance of Etchmiadzin slowly recovered during the Second World War. The Holy See's official magazine resumed publication in 1944, while the seminary was reopened in September 1945.

During the Great Purge in the late 1930s, the cathedral was a "besieged institution as the campaign was underway to eradicate religion under Communism."[94] The repressions climaxed in 1938 when Catholicos Khoren I was murdered in April "undoubtedly at the hands of the NKVD."[95] In August of that year, the Armenian Communist Party decided to close down the cathedral, but the central Soviet government "appears not to have responded with its approval." The cathedral continued to function "only minimally, isolated from the outside world"[96] "and its community reduced to some twenty destitute inmates."[2] It was reportedly the only church in Soviet Armenia not to have been seized by the government. "However, it is also under the control of the Communists."[97] The dissident anti-Soviet Armenian diocese in the US wrote that "the great cathedral became a hollow monument."[98]

The Soviet government issued a postage stamp depicting the cathedral in 1978.

In December 1923, the southern apse of the cathedral collapsed. It was restored under Toros Toramanian's supervision in what was the first case of restoration of an architectural monument in Soviet Armenia.[93]

After two years of independence, Armenia was Sovietized in early December 1920. Already on December 17, Armenia's Revolutionary committee (Revkom) ordered the confiscation of cultural and educational institutions of the Armenian Church. This was amongst the first acts of anti-religious activities in Soviet Armenia that peaked during the 1930s, when the Armenian Church was persecuted by the Soviet state. Despite the church leadership's grievance, it continued until the February Uprising when Etchmiadzin was briefly (until April) taken over by the nationalist Armenian Revolutionary Federation, which had dominated the pre-Soviet Armenian government between 1918 and 1920. After the uprising was suppressed and Yerevan was retaken by Bolsheviks, the government's strong anti-religious stance softened for some time.[92]

Soviet suppression

In the spring of 1918 the cathedral was in danger of an attack by the Turks.[89] Prior to the May 1918 Byurakan for security purposes, but he refused.[90][91] The Armenian forces eventually repelled the Turkish offensive and set the foundation of the First Republic of Armenia.

During the Armenian Genocide, the cathedral of Etchmiadzin and its surrounding became a major center for the Turkish Armenian refugees. At the end of 1918, there were about 70,000 refugees in the Etchmiadzin district.[88] The Armenian Near East Relief "maintained a hospital and an orphanage within its grounds" as of 1919.[2]

In 1903, the Russian government issued an edict to confiscate the properties of the Armenian Church, including the treasures of Etchmiadzin.[2] Russian policemen and soldiers entered and occupied the cathedral.[86][87] Due to popular resistance and the personal defiance of Catholicos Mkrtich Khrimian, the edict was canceled in 1905.[84]

The cathedral in the early 20th century

20th century and on

In 1868, Catholicos Gevorg (George) IV made the last major alteration to the cathedral by adding a [7]

The cathedral prospered under Russian rule, despite the suspicions that the Imperial Russian government had about Etchmiadzin becoming a "possible center of the Armenian nationalist sentiment."[2] Formally, Etchmiadzin became the religious center of the Armenians living within the Russian Empire by the 1836 statute or constitution (polozhenie).[84]

The Russian influence gradually penetrated into the region by the early 19th century. The Erivan Khanate, in which Etchmiadzin was located, became an arena for rivalry between the Russian and Persian empires. During the Russo-Persian War (1804–13), Etchmiadzin was twice captured by the Russian troops led by General Pavel Tsitsianov, first in 1804 and then again in 1806. However, Russia returned it to Persia by the 1813 Treaty of Gulistan.[82] On 13 April 1827, during the Russo-Persian War (1826–28), Etchmiadzin was captured by the Russian General Ivan Paskevich's troops without fight and was formally annexed by Russia, with the Persian-controlled parts of Armenia, roughly corresponding to the territory of the modern Republic of Armenia (also known as Eastern Armenia), according to the 1828 Treaty of Turkmenchay.[83]

Russian takeover

Painting of the cathedral by an unknown European artist (1870s)

The renovations of Etchmiadzin continued during the 18th century. In 1720, Catholicos Astvatsatur and then, in 1777–83 Simeon I of Yerevan took actions in preserving the cathedral.[37] In 1770, Simeon I established a publishing house near Etchmiadzin, the first in Armenia.[81][2] During Simeon's reign, the monastery was completely walled and separated from the city of Vagharshapat.[4] Catholicos Ghukas (Lukas) continued the renovations in 1784–86.[37]

The renovation works were interrupted by the [7] In 1654, he started the construction of the belfry in the western wing of the Etchmiadzin Cathedral. It was completed in 1658 by Catholicos Hakob IV Jugayetsi.[59][2] Decades later, in 1682, Catholicos Yeghiazar constructed smaller bell towers with red tufa turrets on the southern, eastern, and northern wings.[2][37]

Since 1627, the cathedral underwent major renovation under Catholicos Movses (Moses), when the dome, ceiling, roof, foundations and paving were repaired.[59] At this time, cells for monks, a guesthouse and other structures were built around the cathedral.[37] Additionally, a wall was built around the cathedral, making it a fort-like complex.[59] Eli Smith wrote in 1833: "The whole of the premises are surrounded by a high wall flanked with circular towers, and have externally the appearance of a fortress. Within, is a city in miniature."[79] Douglas Freshfield wrote in 1869 that "convent and cathedral are within a large fortified enclosure" and claimed that it "has in its time resisted many attacks from the infidels."[80]

17th-18th centuries

Engraving of Etchmiadzin by French traveler Jean Chardin, 1670s (detail)
Robert Sears described the monastery in 1855 as follows: "The monastery is surrounded by a wall thirty feet high, entered by four gates, and flanked by towers, which, as well as the walls, are built of brick, excepting the base, and furnished with loopholes, giving the whole structure the appearance of a large quadrangular fortress."[78]

[77].Pope Shah Abbas even offered the cathedral to the [76][72]