Hovhannavank (Surb Hovhannes Vank) is an Armenian Apostolic Church monastery located in the village of Ohanavan in the Aragatsotn Province of Armenia. It is situated atop a steep gorge carved by the Kasagh river. The monastery was dedicated to John the Baptist, whom Armenians venerate as their patron-saint. The oldest part of the monastery is the single nave basilica of St. Karapet that was founded at the beginning of the fourth century by St. Gregory the Enlightener, who baptized Armenia into the world’s first Christian nation.
The monastery walls are covered with rich lapidary inscriptions. One large engraved text high on the northern wall of one of the monastery’s auxiliary structures reads:
“…By the grace of merciful God, during the reign of Queen Tamar, daughter of the great Gevorg, in the year 642 (1200 AD) of the race of Torgom, we—brothers Zakaria and Ivane—sons of Sargis the Great, son of Avag Zakarian, when the light of God’s grace rose and entered Armenia and raised us from weakness in the battle against the enemies of Christ and destroyed their power and quenched their violence, with the country of Ararat delivered from the heavy yoke of their servitude, wished to make offering and gave the tribute of the grace to the Holy Forerunner of Hovhannavank …”
Other beautiful Armenian Churches include:
Tatev Monastery is one of the major spiritual, political and cultural centers of Medieval Armenia. During its history it has been a fortress, a metropolitan residence and a university. For 1100 years it has been high atop the triangular plateau not far from the village of Tatev which is situated in the historical part of Armenia.
A lot of legends envelop Tatev. Why the name of the monastery ‘Ta Tev’ is translated as ‘Give me the wings’ from Old Armenian? Why does the oldest seismograph in the world, Gavazan Column, being 26.24 ft high keep swinging and does not fall?
Of the Wings
Having finished his work in Tatev Monastery the master asked the builders, who had crowded below, for two chips. After the builders had given them to him he kissed them and said, “Ogni surb ta tev”, which can be translated as “Let the Holy Spirit give me the wings”. Hardly had he finished speaking when two wings grew on his back and he flew away. And the monastery was called Tatev after the master whose appeal “Ogni surb ta tev” was heard by God.
Of the Pride
Once upon a time the builder who was constructing the monastery and the priest, who was busy making a canal so that the monastery could have a supply of water, had a bet on who would be the first to finish his work. A few days later the priest noticed that the master was about to finish his work and resorted to cunning. He draped the part of the canal which was not filled with water yet with a long white cloak so that fluttered by the wind it looked like a waterfall from afar. The trick did work: The master who was already laying the last stone turned back and saw the water falling down. He could not lose the bet and threw himself from the monastery wall. Later the stream was called the Priest Stream.
Of the Water
In Syunik the snake has always been considered the protectress of a family hearth. The Armenians believe that there will be no happiness and peace in the family if someone kills a snake. Another legend has it that once a snake was scooped into the bucked together with the river water. The raven that nested in the monastery saw it, threw himself into the pail and pecked it. However the snake managed to bite the brave bird, and the thankful monks buried the raven on the way to the monetary.
Of the Swinging Column
On the stepped pedestal near the southern wall of Church of St. Gregory there stands a 26.24 ft tall Gavazan Column (which means a staff in Armenian) crowned with a stone cross – khachkar. In old times the talented architect was able to construct this swinging stele. The stele can be put into motion by pushing. For centuries the mystery of this original seismograph that warned the monks about the cataclysm maturing in the Earth depths has remained unsolved. It is also said to have warned the people about enemy invasions. In this case it was put into motion by the warriors’ marching.
The Arabs that conquered Tatev in the 10th century wanted to pull Gavazan down. Ten pairs of buffalos pulled the chains which the stele was tied with. But the chains were torn and the buffalos fell into the abyss. The invaders thought that it was a sky-sign and left the monastery.
In the middle of the 20th century the architects made an attempt to unveil the mystery of the column. Unfortunately, after it Gavazan does not swing that fast.
Sanahin & Haghpat Monastery
These two monasteries in the Tumanian region from the period of prosperity during the Kiurikian dynasty (10th-13th centuries) were important centers of learning. Sanahin in particular was renowned for its school of illuminators and calligraphers. They are exceptional examples of the ‘domed hall’ ecclesiastical architecture that developed in Armenia from the 10th to the 13th centuries.
Construction of the main church of the large fortified monastic complex of Haghpat, dedicated to the Holy Cross, began in 966-67 and was completed in 991 by the royal Armenian Bagratouni dynasty. The central dome rests on the four massive pillars in the side walls. The building is complete and in its original form, apart from some 11th- and 12th-century restorations.
The Sanahin Monastery consists of a large group of buildings on the plateau above the Debet gorge and skilfully integrated into the impressive mountain landscape. The main church, built in the 10th century, is the Cathedral of the Redeemer. The oldest references to the Sanahin monastery were found in early 10th century Armenian manuscripts and relate that the monastery was constructed over the ruins of a 4th or 5th century church. This is the earliest known example of this type of structure, which owes its origins to Armenian peasant dwellings consisting of square rooms with four free-standing pillars supporting the roof and a central hole to allow smoke to be dispersed. The Church of the Mother of God (Astvatzatzin), located to the north of the cathedral and connected with it by means of a open-ended vaulted passage, is the oldest building in the complex, built in 934 and houses a large library. The deep niches along the walls and the abundance of light give this building an exceptional spatial quality. The cemetery, located to the south-east of the main buildings, contains the late 12th-century mausoleum of the Zakarian princes.
Christianity played a crucial role in the development of Armenian art and architecture. The “classic” style developed in the 5th-7th centuries, but its further evolution came to an abrupt halt with the Arab occupation that began at the end of the 7th century. Armenia became independent again at the end of the 9th century and Armenian art was revived when the kingdom was consolidated and national identity re-established. The two monasteries of Haghpat and Sanahin date from this period, during the prosperity of the Kiurikian dynasty and the Zakarian Princes. They were important centres of learning, housing some 500 monks, and bear eloquent testimony to the highest achievement of Armenian architecture.
Haghpat, built by the royal Bagratouni dynasty in the Lori district of northern Armenia in the 970s, was known from early times as Sourb Nshan (the Holy Cross) of Haghpat. Construction to the designs of the architect Traat was completed in 991. It suffered from earthquake damage on several occasions, and in 1105 it was taken and burned by the Selcuk prince Amir-Ghzil. Such was the spiritual importance of Haghpat and its neighbour, Sanahin, that the fortress of Kaian was built in 1233 to protect them from the marauding MongoIs, but this was taken by storm in 1241. Nonetheless, these monasteries survived, monastic life continued and new buildings were added later in the 13th century.
Below more pictures of Sanahin and Haghpat monastic complexes.