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!!
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…
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.
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!
Onwards to Yerevan!