ZVARTNOTS

Zvartnots Temple (“The Celestial Angels” in Armenian) is a 7th century, centrally planned aisled tetraconch type Armenian cathedral built by the order of Catholicos Nerses the Builder in 643-652. Now in ruins, it is situated at the boundary of the city of Echmiadzin, in the Armavir Province of Armenia.

Zvartnots was built at a time when much of Armenia was under Byzantine control or influence and during the early invasions of Armenia by the Muslim Arabs. Construction of the cathedral began in 643 under the guidance of Catholicos Nerses III. Dedicated to St. Gregory, it was located on the place, where a meeting between King Tiridates III and Gregory the Illuminator was supposed to have taken place. Reputedly one of the most beautiful churches in the world, it housed relics of St. Gregory, the first Catholicos (Patriarch of all Armenians) of the Armenian Church.

Zvartnots remained standing until the end of the 10th century, but was destroyed by an earthquake in 930 AD, and was lost to history until its discovery in the early 20th century. The Armenian and Arab historians alike marveled at the beauty of Zvartnots, calling it one of the most beautiful buildings ever built. Originally built to be the tallest church of the world at the time, and to last for 1,000 years (a projected date for the second coming of Christ), the Zvartnots Temple has been only partially reconstructed.

An arc of finely carved pillars and a massive stone floor are what remains, along with a profusion of decorated stone fragments. A pool in the center of the building was used to baptize adults. Around the temple are the ruins of the palace of the Catholicos, and the wine press and stone tanks of a massive medieval winery.

A model of the church in the State Museum of Armenian History in Yerevan shows it to have been a round creation with a hood shaped dome 45m high. However, the historians argue over whether the reconstruction in the museum is really true to the church’s original design. Either way, the pillars evoke a feeling for a Greek and Roman influenced Levantine Christianity similar to many early Syrian church ruins.