Geghard monastery - | Silk Road Armenia

Geghard monastery

Founded in the IV c., main church – 1215 y.

To north-east of Garni, higher up the gorge of the Azat River, there is a magnificent monument of medieval Armenian architecture – Geghard monastery. The specific character of this monument reflects, no doubt, the peculiarities of the austere and majestic scenery around it. The picturesque gorge of Gegharda-dzor with its high and precipitous cliffs is extremely winding, and the monastery opens to view unexpectedly behind a turn of a steep path leading to it. In the 1950s a road sign was put up near this turn – a lioness on a high pedestal, with its head turned as if showing the way. Its figure is stylistically connected with the decoration of the monastery. The exact date of the foundation Geghard monastery is unknown but it was built at the 4th century and formerly was called Ayrivank which means “cave monastery” because the half part of it is in the rock. The present name is to be traced back to the 13th century when, as a legend says, the legendary spear – “geghard” – was brought there. This spear is believed to be used to pierce Christ’s body during crucifixion. Nothing has remained of the structures of Ayrivank. According to Armenian historians of the 4th, 8th and 10th centuries the monastery had not only religious buildings but also well-appointed residential and service installations. Ayrivank suffered greatly in 923 from Nasr, a vice-regent of an Arabian caliph in Armenia, who plundered its valuable property, including unique manuscripts, and burned down the magnificent structures of the monastery. Earthquakes also did it no small damage. The existing ensemble dates back to the 12th-13th centuries, the period of the flourishing of national culture, especially architecture. Under the princes of Zakharia and Ivane the chapels of Grigory the Еnlightener – the most ancient structure of the monastery – its main temple and its vestibule, as well as the first cave church have been built.