[ Autumn, 2013 ] Another tourist destination in Armenia is Geghard Monastery. When you go down from Garni Temple on the hill, soon you will see …
The Geghard Monastery is an integral part of the spectacular gorge of the River Azat in the mountains of Armenia .
Its construction was started in the 4th century A.D., at the behest of St. Gregory the Illuminator and was built near to a grotto from which, allegedly, sacred water flows.
It was for this reason that, at the time, it was given the name of Ayrivank which effectively means “the monastery of the caves.”
Within the monastery complex, you will find churches that have been carved into the rock in their entirety, whilst others are only partially built from the rock walls or are actually built inside the mountain and others which are little more than caves themselves.
This is undoubtedly one of the most magical places in the entire country and is visited every year by thousands of tourists from all over the world.
Virtually nothing remains of the original structure which included, on the outside, shops and houses as well as other religious sites, because it was ransacked in 923 by Nasr, the vice regent of the caliphate in Armenia.
He stole all the precious items that the monastery had conserved such as ancient manuscripts and other items of great historical and artistic value.
Once the looting was finished, he set the buildings on fire and the subsequent earthquakes further contributed to the destruction of the site.
The building which we can see today was erected in 1215 upon the orders of the brothers Zakare and Ivane.
In the middle of the 13th century, the monastery was acquired by Prince Prosh Khaghbakian, the founder of the principality of Proshian who raised this settlement to its former glory.
The reconstruction works were carried out by the people of Proshian and these included:
The Gavit (or vestry), which, in the Armenian language means “atrium” or a meeting place for social purposes where the pilgrims and visitors could meet
This space is decorated with bas-reliefs depicting natural religious symbols, figures of lions with dragons in place of their tails, an eagle with a lamb between its talons and the coat of arms of the Proshian dynasty.
The Gavit is situated to the west of the main church and is completely carved into the rock face.
The second church in the cave is the Jhamatun sepulchre of Papak and Ruzukana which is accessible from the Gavit and is known as the Azavan (the reservoir) because, on its northern side, there is a tank that is used to collect the waters which flow from an underground source which is considered to be sacred.
In addition to this, there is another room that can be reached by crossing a small gallery which connects it to the Azavan which is completely carved out of the cliff face, plus further very small “cells,” a reception room which, unfortunately, collapsed in the middle of the 20th century and an irrigation system that was also built here to serve Geghard .
The hall to the north east of the Gavit was used as the tomb of Prince Proshian who died in 1283. At that time, the monastery was still known as “The Monastery of the Seven Churches,” or “The Monastery of the Forty Altars.”
With the passage of time, the churches were neglected and were forgotten about, to the extent that they were used by local shepherds for sheltering their flocks during the winter.
It was the monks who came from the city of Echmiadzin who eventually took care of this magnificent place, restored it and rearranged it in the fashion in which we can still admire it today.
The Monastery was a destination of pilgrimage for centuries and inside, relics of the apostles, St. Andrew and St. John were preserved. According to legend, the apostle Thaddeus, allegedly brought the spear here which had been used to pierce Christ’s ribs at the time of his crucifixion.
As of the 13th century, this latter relic gave the Monastery its name, Geghard, which in the Armenian language means “The Monastery of the Spear.” This sacred relic is now preserved and exhibited in the city of Echmiadzim.
A small religious community still lives inside the Monastery.
The Monastery at Geghard was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000.