Monastery of Geghard in Armenia

Legends of Armenian Churches: Geghard Monastery

September 17, 2015 - Travel to Armenia

Geghard Monastery, one of the most popular pilgrimage sites in Armenia, is believed to be founded by the first Catholicos St. Gregory the Illuminator at the beginning of the 4th century during the first years after the Kingdom of Armenia adopted Christianity as its state religion in 301 A.D. The monastery sits 40 kilometers south-east of the capital city of Yerevan in the Kotayk Province of Armenia and is listed among the UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Geghard Monastery Armenia
Photo by Edgar Harutyunyan

Ages ago, because of the small cave constructions inside and surrounding the monastery, it was named Ayrivank (interpreted from Armenian «Այրիվանք», as Monastery of Caves). Since the 13th century, it was named Geghardavank (interpreted from Armenian «Գեղարդավանք», as Monastery of the Spear), because the spear used by a Roman soldier to pierce the crucified Christ was brought here by Saint Jude (Thaddeus) the Apostle. Currently, the spear is exhibited at the Etchmiadzin treasury.

Well, the monastery is partially carved out of the mountain and the locals have their own explanation for this. According to a legend, a sister and a brother from a noble family decided to build a temple higher up the gorge of Azat River and live there. But, they were undecided where exactly to build it and asked for the God’s help. They waited for a sign, and one morning saw that their hoe was stuck on top of the mountain. That was the sign. The siblings built the temple inside the rock with the help of a saint virgin and lived here till the end of their lives. 

Taken from Gregor Samsa’s Flickr

The monastic complex was established in the 13th century and is currently comprised of the main Katoghike Church (built in 1215), the vestry, two rock-cut churches, a tomb-chapel and small cells. Later, in the 17th century, several public and residential buildings were built in the area. Walking around the area to the west on the walls one can also see ancient carvings and cross-stones.

Interior of Geghard Monastery
Photo by Marko Ukkola

Tip: When inside the monastery, look for a small room with interesting acoustic property. The room is carved out of the rock and its fascinating acoustics arouses curiosity when singing in here. Another interesting must-see is the interior of the first church (architect Galdzag) built by prince Prosh in 1230-50. And… make sure you drink the healing water of the spring that comes out of the rock under the north wall of the church.

Monastery of Geghard in Armenia
Photo by Marko Ukkola

This was the legend of Monastery of Geghard, more facts and legends to come in our series of the legends of Armenian Churches.

Leave a comment for us in case you have another interpretation of the legend of Geghard Monastery. 

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