Armenia gratifies for being the first country to adopt Christianity back in 301AD. The religion was initiated in the missions of Apostles Bartholomew and Thaddeus in the first century. Hence the splendid number of churches and monasteries in Armenia: more than 4000 churches! Of course, nobody will have the time to visit them all, although each one of them is worthy to be explored, so here’s a list of the most frequented churches in Armenia.
Khor Virap Monastery
Khor Virap is an iconic pilgrimage site that Armenians are very proud of. It is located near the Turkish border in the Ararat plain. The chapel is so sacred because that’s where the Saint Gregory the Illuminator was imprisoned in Khor Virap, known as the Pit of Oblivion, for fourteen years without food or water. He has then become the religious mentor of the king Tiridates the Third. When you visit Khor Virap, you will have the chance to go down the pit and imagine what St. Gregory went through. You will also get the chance to take a glance of the symbolic Mount Ararat from there.
Located in Vagharshapad, Armavir province, Echmiadzin is the mother church of Armenia. The original chapel was built in the early fourth century which makes it the oldest cathedral of the world. As the main monument of Armenian Christians worldwide, Echmiadzin has been an important religious, political and cultural location visited by every tourist, even by those from a different religion. The Mother See of Holy Echmiadzin hosts also the chair of the Catholicos, the supreme head of the Armenian Church.
Saint Gregory the Illuminator Cathedral
Situated in the heart of Yerevan, the Saint Gregory the Illuminator Cathedral is the largest one in the country. The doors of the church are always open, so people during the day pass by, say a small prayer, and move on with their lives, which is something incredible. The huge cathedral is a complex construction constituted of three churches. The whole monument is very delicately and beautifully designed, even the long stairs leading to the church are noticeable. You should visit this church twice, once during the day and once at night, for it becomes particularly beautiful after being illuminated by the floodlights.
Tatev Monastery is located in Tatev village in Syunik province, Southeastern of Armenia. The word Tatev means monastery in Armenian. The temple was active since the pre-Christian period as a pagan temple, then it was changed into a modest church in the fourth century. This historical monument was an enlightenment and spiritual focus and played a vital role in the country’s history. The longest reversible cable car is also situated in that village, so while flying over the canyon, you will have the chance to get a look at the picturesque view of the monastery and its surrounding greenery.
Sevanavank is one of the most visited churches by tourists because of its incredible location on the shore of Lake Sevan. Princess Mariam founded the monastery in 874 AC. The monastery was at first built to host monks from Echmiadzin who have sinned since the place is far from life’s temptations. Sevanavank is built on a hill, so the view of the lake from up there is panoramic and a must-see.
Noravank literally translates to New Monastery. It is located 122km away from Yerevan in a narrow canyon in Amaghu Valley, Vayots Dzor province. The monastery is famous for its two-floor Holy Mother of God church, and if you want to access the second floor, you’ll have to go up narrow stone-made stairs extending out from the front of the building. While you’re there, you should also pass by Surb Karapet and Surb Krikor chapels.
The most interesting chapel in Armenia might be Geghard monastery since it is carved out of a cave. Sited in the Kotayk province, approximately a one-hour drive from Yerevan, this church is a must-see. Saint Gregory the Illuminator, the early religious leader, lived in this complex and in the caves surrounding the chapel. The site is even more beautiful during wintertime when a white layer of snow covers the caps of the church and the majestic forest surrounding it.
This church stands out among the rest because of the pink stone used in building it. All the others use black or grey stones, so Odzun is a lot more refreshing. The chapel is situated in Lori province, North of Armenia, so it is a bit far to reach but worth the drive. This medieval church dates back to the first half of the seventh century.
Zvartnots Cathedral Ruins
The Temple of Ruins is found in Vagharshapat, Armavir province. It was essentially built in the seventh century in a circular form. The cathedral was standing still up until the end of the tenth century, when an earthquake occurred, leaving the place in ruins. Armenians realized that they will have to build churches in rectangular forms to avoid such devastations.
Armenia is called Land of Churches for a reason! But remember, when you visit the chapels always dress appropriately. So, book your ticket now and visit Armenia and its spiritual places!