"Mother church - more than meets the eye..." Top 5 Page for this destination Armenia Off The Beaten Path Tip by RaffiKojian
Armenia Off The Beaten Path: 22 reviews and 31 photos
Echmiadzin, often called the Mayr Dajar (Mother Church or Temple) in Armenian is the heart of Armenian Christendom. The oldest Christian nation in the world, this is the seat of the Armenian Catholicos, equivalent to the Catholic Pope. The church construction dates to 301, the year Armenia accepted Christianity, but little remains of that structure. It was however built over an earlier pagan fire worshiping pit. That ancient pit remains intact directly under the altar and can sometimes be seen by visitors. Most such pits were destroyed with the ascent of Christianity.
You can learn much about the Cathedral from other sources. Basically, it's a nice building, the bell tower is very intricately carved. The inside is covered in frescoes. Nice altar, seat for the Catholicos, etc. There is much that is less known, and off the beaten track here however.
Behind the altar, on the right, is a door to a small museum of some of the churches treasures. These may be gold bible covers studded with gems, or similar staffs of the Catholicos, or beautiful rare ceramics or other relics brought over from churches in Western Armenia, saved from the genocide. In the back room of this small museum is a set of stairs going down. Above the stairs rests the lance that pierced Jesus' side as he was taken to be crucified. At the bottom of the stairs is a door, and if you can convince a priest to let you in, you'll see the pagan fire worshiping pit that is thousands of years old. The priest will likely make it obvious that a donation left at the pit would be most welcome!
Outside, across the entrance to the cathedral and through an arch is the gate to a closed off area housing the Manoogian Museum. It can be hard to gain access, but the treasures kept here are worth the effort. Massive tapestries, goldsmith masterpieces, ceramics, hand embroidered costumes with gold thread, all compete for your attention and all tell the history of the church. The really fun stuff though is a room full of all the gifts received by Catholicos Vazgen I, who died in 1994. His 29 years, mostly under communism saw countless gifts over the years, and the collection has all kinds of things - from keys to cities around the world, to very interesting handmade arts. A tribute to a man who ran the church during the difficult years of communism, and was loved by many.
The entire compound of Echmiadzin is landscaped, and has khachkars (carved cross stones) all over. If you pay attention to the plaques and have a map of Armenia with you, you'll be able to see how this diverse collection is possibly the best in the world. Spanning many historic periods, and many styles, you'll even be able to see examples from the largest collection which ever existed - Jugha. These masterpieces from Jugha are all that is left, as the remaining 20,000 were destroyed completely by Soviet and in the past few years Azeri governments.
Around the town of Echmiadzin - technically named Vagharshapat - are two other noteworthy churches. Both are named for Christian Roman virgins that refused to marry the Armenian King before he had converted to Christianity. Both paid with their lives. The 7th century church of Hripsime is a masterpiece of architecture, and Gayane is an interesting smaller church in town as well.
So go to Echmiadzin, a must see, but check out more than just the Cathedral - or you'll miss out on the best stuff!
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