Nora-Vank and Khor Virap

Armenia was the first nation to adopt Christianity in the early 4th century and so it’s Apostolic Church is the oldest Christian community on earth. It claims that the two Apostles Bartholemew and Thaddeus were its founders. As Noah’s Ark is said to have landed on mount Ararat (now in Turkey but was once part of the ancient kingdom of Armenia) Armenians also claim they are direct descendants from Japheth, one of Noah’s grandsons. Consequently there are many ancient orthodox churches, monasteries and cathedrals across the country.

Noravank monastery was funded by the Orbelian dynasty who were an important noble family who ruled over Armenia’s southern most province Syunik. 
There are two structures, the Surb Astvatsatsin (Holy Mother of God) and the smaller Surb Karapet. The larger structure was designed and built by the famous architect, sculptor and painter Momik in 1339. Some very narrow steps lead up to the upper done level which is supported by carved pillars.  


We were lucky enough to see a mass in progress while we were there. The ceremony was characterised with two priest dressed in rich blue embroidered robes and pointed hat and two women lay readers who were also dressed in blue. Women cover their heads with a scarf during church services. There was lots of incense and harmonised chanting. We both enjoyed walking around, after the countless temples and mosques there was something strangely familiar about all the symbology and architecture!! 


The weather cleared and we had another warm sunny day. We were heading towards another important religious site, Khor Virap. We turned off the main road as the bad weather started to roll in Again.

Fortunately we found this empty store house 5km from the church so we set up camp inside and escaped the overnight downpours.


Khor Virap is the pilgrimage site where Gregory the Illuminator was said to have been imprisoned for 14 years in a snake infested pit. The site sits on the border with Turkey with the impressive Mount Ararat as a backdrop. Unfortunately we never got to see mount Ararat because the clouds never lifted high enough for us to see its impressive snowy peaks…

Our view of Khor Virap
What it can look like on a clear day… 😦

As the story goes, Gregory (a Christian missionary) was imprisoned by the Armenian King Tiridates III. Tiridates threw Gregory into the jail of the Ancient city of Artashat and for many years he was assumed to have perished in the pit. However, an old devout woman kept Gregory alive by lowering provisions down to him.

A church and monastery was built over the site of Gregory’s 14 year jail. Pilgrims descend the 6m vertical stairs down to the pit…

Meanwhile Tiridates continued his persecution of Christians across his realm; in the end these acts were said to have made him go mad. In a dream, God appears to Tiridates’ sister and tells her to release Gregory for he has the power to cure the King of his madness. Gregory is discovered and released, cures the King who then converts to Christianity and declares Armenia the first Christian state. The end!

White doves kept at the entrance. Pilgrims believe they can be released and they will fly to the site where the ark landed on mount Ararat.

Onwards to Yerevan! 

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2 thoughts on “Nora-Vank and Khor Virap

  1. Hi you two. Jill and I have followed your travel blogs with great interest and enthusiasm. Just to let you know that I have been reading up on the latest situation in Turkey and the impression given is that there is a fair amount of unrest after the attempted coup earlier this year. Also I understand that WhatsApp is unavailable. Hope the rest of your trip goes well and look forward to reading future blogs. Take care. Best wishes Robin

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Robin! Thanks for your message and yes we’ve also been keeping close tabs on the situation there. It is very sad what is happening. We have friends who are cycling through the country now and say that the situation isn’t really affecting them. We’re thinking we’re going to take a long bus journey from Georgia to The south west coast, mainly because the weather isn’t looking great! Lots of snow and rain on the Black Sea and in the centre of Turkey. We’re keeping away from the Syrian border and plan to have 3 weeks cycling the west coast and we should be fine there. Thanks for your message and for reading. Hope to see you both soon. Annie and Paddy xxx

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