[ Autumn, 2005 ] I realise now that I was very lucky to see the Mt.Ararat so clearly. I read some travel blogs of various people and apparently the mountain is often hidden behind clouds….
On a hillside just a few kilometres from the Turkish-Armenian border stands the Monastery of Khor Virap which, in the Armenian language, means a deep well or a deep hole.
You can reach the Monastery by following the main highway with directions to Pokr Vedi which is about 4km away from the Monastery and about 8km to the south of Artashat.
The capital, Yerevan is about 30km distant.
Originally, the building was a prison which was commissioned by Artashes I in the year 180 BC in Artashat which was the capital at that time. However, that city was subsequently destroyed by the Persian, King Shapur II.
The Monastery’s notoriety is due in part to the imprisonment here of Grigor Lusavorich (Gregory the Illuminator) for 13 years.
King Tiridates III commanded that Gregory be locked up in a well that was 6 metres deep and 4.40 metres wide having been found guilty of preaching the Christian faith in Armenian territory.
The prisoner survived thanks to the benevolence of a lady, a widow, who had a vision telling her to concentrate on the prisoner’s survival and this was exactly what she did throughout the duration of his imprisonment.
Gregory’s imprisonment ended when King Tridates III’s sister, after having seen the vision of an angel in a dream who told her that the only person capable of curing her brother from his madness was this prisoner who had largely been forgotten about. And this was how Gregory’s release from prison came about.
The sovereign eventually recovered thanks to Gregory’s care and prayers. King Tiridates was so impressed by what Gregory had achieved that he converted to Christianity and appointed Gregory as his spiritual guardian.
Because of this, the monk was able to arrange for the construction of a church on this pagan site as he had done with the other famous Monastery of Geghard.
It was thus that in 301 A.D., Armenia became the first state in the world to embrace the Christian religion as its official credo.
Gregory was appointed as a bishop and remained at the side of King Tiridates until 314 A.D., after which time he was made a saint and was subsequently known as St. Gregory the Illuminator.
In 642 A.D., in order to protect the well in which the saint had been incarcerated, it was decided to erect a chapel made out of white limestone. The building was restored and rebuilt several times over the centuries and today it is a small basilica which is located to the south west of the main church.
The well and the prison in which St. Gregory was incarcerated can still be visited by descending some steep metal stairs. We wouldn’t recommend this for anyone who suffers from claustrophobia!
The site reveals itself to the visitor as a small fortress with a large courtyard on the inside. The main church which is dedicated to The Holy Mother of God (Astvatsatsin) was built in 1662 on the ruins of the ancient chapel. The refectory and the monks’ cells as well as some small souvenir shops are also accessible to the visiting public.
Khor Virap is situated on a hill that is surrounded by meadows and vineyards. The view from here of Mt. Ararat which is on the Turkish side of the border, is one of the most spectacular to be had in Armenia.