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Cathedral of Echmiadzin

  • Echmiadzin, Armenia
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Cathedral of Echmiadzin The patriarchal complex of St. Echmiadzin ( descent of the 'Only Begotten ) is located in the city of Vagharshapat or Echmiadzin of Armavir province. The fourth city of Armenia, Echmiadzin was the capital from about 184 to 340. It is a sacred place for Armenians. St. Echmiadzin is the Holy See of the Armenian Catholicos Garegin II, the spiritual head of the Armenian Apostolic Church. Echmiadzin's most important monument is its cathedral, originally built by St. Gregory the Illuminator as a vaulted basilica in 301-303, when Armenia was the only nation in the world to recognize Christianity as the state religion. According to Armenian annals from the fifth century, St. Gregory had a vision of Christ descending from heaven and striking the ground with a golden hammer to show the place where the Cathedral was to be built. So the patriarch gave the church and the city the name Echmiadzin, which means "the place where the Only Son descended." In its present form, however, it is no longer the original form of the fourth century. In 480 the Roman governor of Armenia, Vahan Mamikonian, ordered that the ruined basilica be replaced by a new church with a cross-shaped plan. In 618 the wooden dome was replaced with a stone one resting on four massive pillars joined to the outer walls by means of arches. Since then the church has remained almost intact until today. At the beginning of the 18th century frescoes appeared in the interior and bizarre roundels above the apses. The three-tiered bell tower located at the entrance of the church is richly carved and dates back to 1648. Inside, the size of the church is modest but the ceiling is decorated with beautiful frescoes depicting an oriental garden full of roses, cypresses and winged cherubs. In the center there is an altar, in the point where San Gregorio saw the divine light touch the ground, with an image of the Madonna and Child surrounded by rich tapestries. Also of interest is the "treasure" of the church, at the back of the cathedral, where important relics are gathered including the Holy Lance, the weapon used to pierce the side of Christ on Calvary, relics of Saints Thaddeus, Peter and Andrew, and various fragments of Noah's Ark. To the west of the Cathedral is the Gate of St. Tyridates built in the 4th century, which leads to the imposing Palace of the Patriarch. The cathedral stands in a large quadrangular garden where the seminary and other buildings housing monastic cells are also located. Echmiadzin is also the site of the first center of writing and typography. All around the cathedral stand splendid khatchkars, the "cross-shaped stones", some of them very elaborate, one of the most characteristic products of Armenian religious art, which by the thousands (about 40 thousand are preserved) mark with their presence the Christian character of Armenian territory. Besides the Cathedral, the city of Echmiadzin contains two very ancient churches of great importance: the church of Saint Hripsime, the church of Saint Gayane and the church of Shoghakat.

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