The Churches Of Lori

Lori is rich in religious architectural monuments, monastic complexes, which are in perfect harmony with the natural environment where they were built, be it in the mountains, forests, settlements or rocks. The construction traditions of the Armenian Highland have a history of thousands of years. The main building materials used were stone (basalt, felsic, tuff), clay and unbaked brick. The churches and monastic complexes of medieval Armenia are in harmony with the natural environment where they were built, be it in the mountains, forests, settlements or on the rocks. In 301 CE, Christianity, recognized as the state religion, developed not only the architecture of religious but also secular structures. The whole Armenian highland, including Lori, is rich in both secular and religious architectural monuments, monastic complexes.


Sanahin is an ancient settlement. This is evidenced by the findings of the tombs, according to which it was a significant settlement as far back as 4000 years ago.

Sanahin Monastery is one of the famous structures of 10th century Armenian medieval architecture. It was the residence of the archbishop, the holy center of the Kyurikian kingdom, and played an important role in the Armenian religious, cultural and scientific life. Great scientists, writers, architects and sculptors gathered in the monastery. Sanahin Monastery is located in the central highlands of the former Sanahin village, and most likely took the name of the village.

According to the famous linguist Hrachya Acharyan, Sanahin means old jar, San-old. There is another comment: after the construction of the Haghpat monastery, Sanahin was said to be “older than the other one”, hence Sanahin. Scientists, monks, grammarians, writers, painters, prominent figures of Armenian education, culture and religion, in particular, Hovhannes the Scientist Sanahnetsi, philosopher, orator Anania Sanahnetsi have created works in the Sanahin church complex. By the way, one of the students of the monastery’s school was the greatest medieval troubadour-poet, singer Sayat-Nova. Sanahin, later Haghpat Monastery, was founded by a group of Armenian religious people banished by the Byzantine Emperor Romanos I for rejecting the Chalcedonian religion. According to the legend, the monastery was built on a pagan shrine, where Gregory the Illuminator erected a cross in the 4th century. Sanahin Monastery consists of religious and civil buildings built in the 10th-13th centuries. Inside the walls there are 3 churches, 2 vestibules, a bookstore, a seminary, a bell tower, and outside the walls there are 3 churches, the ancestral tombs of the Kyurikyans, Zakaryans և Arghutyan-Yerkaynabazuks.

Outside the monument are the arched fountain of the monastery, chapels, unique khachkars, and the famous Sanahin bridge. According to historical evidence, about 500 people lived in Sanahin and Haghpat. The monastery was permanently damaged by Seljuk and Persian raids, as well as by earthquakes, and was later restored. Surb Astvatsatsin (Holy Mother) Church is the oldest structure of the complex, inside which, next to the altar, there is a small model of it. The Church of the Holy Savior was also called the Main or Catholicos. These two churches were supposedly built on the former chapel. St. Amenaprkich (All Savior) was built by Queen Khosrovanuysh for the sons’ well-being. St. Gregory Church is dedicated to Gregory the Illuminator.

According to researchers, it is possible that it is one of the oldest structures in the monastery. During the renovation in the Middle Ages, the architectural solutions of the building were significantly damaged, the church lost its glorious appearance, and the medieval frescoes. Not only books and manuscripts, but also valuable items, and relics of the monastery were kept in the library (or mint). The niches inside the library served as a rack for manuscripts. This is the oldest Armenian library, the largest in size. A century later, the Goshavank library was built in the likeness of the Sanahin library. The seminary is traditionally called Grigor Magistros Pahlavuni Seminary. This is a hall stretched between St. Amenaprkich and St. Astvatsatsin churches, an auditorium, the niches on both sides of which serve as stone benches for students who have listened to Gregory the Magistrate. The seminary was considered the high school of the monastery. The floor of the hall is covered with tombstones.


Haghpat Monastery is a special monument of medieval Armenian architecture, with its composition, interweaving of secular and religious thought, in harmony with the surroundings. The monastery is located near Haghpat village. It was founded in the 10th century by King Ashot III and his wife Khosrovanuysh for their sons’ well-being.

Haghpatavank flourished from the second half of the 12th century to the end of the 14th century, becoming one of the largest, most famous monastic complexes in Armenia, a cultural, scientific-educational center, and a archdiocese. After its founding, teachers and scholars were invited from Sanahin and other places to Haghpat. The main church of the monastery is St. Nshan, the architect of which is Trdat, the famous architect of Ani. St. Nshan was the only building in Haghpat for more than 100 years, then a vestibule, a bookstore-matenadaran, a chapel, St. Gregory, St. Astvatsatsin churches, a bell tower, outbuildings, khachkars and chapels were built. The church was named St. Nshan in honor of the wooden cross of the owner, a relic of which was brought to Armenia by St. Hrisime.

After the establishment of the Soviet regime, the archimandrite of the monastery took the Holy Relic with him to Tbilissi (Georgia) to carry it on his chest for the rest of his life, ordering it to be returned to Haghpat by all means. The relic was returned to Haghpat in 2007 and was buried in a cross attached to the wall. The monastery once enjoyed a great reputation. Well-known scientists Hovhannes Imastasser, Grigor Magistros Pahlavuni, Vardan Haghpatetsi, Davit Kobayretsi, bibliographer, geographer, philosopher Vardan Archelts and others taught here. The archimandrite of Haghpat was Deacon Hovhannes, who reformed the Armenian calendar, wrote mathematical, medical, natural science and theological studies. In the high school, Vardapetaran, they taught philosophy, rhetoric, grammar, literature, music, mathematics, etc., copied and illustrated manuscripts.

The famous “Gospel of Haghpat” flourished here, which is one of the best examples of miniature painting. Haghpatavank had the largest library in medieval Armenia. Haghpat was surrounded by a wall to protect it from attacks, but it was repeatedly damaged by Seljuk and Lezgian raids and earthquakes. In order to save the monastery, the manuscripts were hidden in the nearby hard-to-reach caves, which acted not only as a book storage, but also as reading halls. In 1064 the episcopal chair was moved from Sanahin to Haghpat. Due to constant raids, the Haghpat Diocese twice moved to Tbilissi (then Haghpat was handed over to the Georgian Kingdom), and settled here again at the end of the 18th century, being subjected to Mahmud Khan’s raids and looting.

At the beginning of the 19th century, Lori became part of to the Russian Empire, along with Georgia. In 1836 the episcopal see of Haghpat was abolished. The genius medieval troubadour-poet, singer Sayat-Nova, named Father Stepanos, served in the Haghpat diocese from 1768 as a monk, from 1778 as an illuminator. The people interpret the name Haghpat as a victory wall or a real wall. However, according to the accepted interpretation, the name of the monastery was written Haghbat, and “haghb” means lazy, guilty, which means, this is the place where they are cut off from the sinful life. The world-famous Sergey Parajanov’s film “The Color of Pomegranate” was shot in Sanahin, Haghpat և Ardvi monasteries.


Odzun is one of the important cultural centers of medieval Armenia. This ancient historical settlement, according to historians, became best known for its early medieval churches, and a scientist born here, a political scientist, lawyer, and diplomat Hovhan Odznetsi Hayrapetov. Many legends have been woven about his miracles; he was considered a saint after his death.

St. Astvatsatsin Church in Odzun is one of the masterpieces of Armenian medieval architecture, an early Christian sanctuary. It is considered an 8th century structure. According to the researches, in the part of the altar of the present church there was a church in the 4th century, built by King Trdat and Gregory the Illuminator, from which some parts of the wall, the foundations, the place of the door have been preserved. The church was gradually expanded, and in the 5th century, using the stones of the old church, a new church was built, the stones of which were used for the third time in the 8th century, during the construction of the current church. According to the historical memory, Patriarch Hovnannes Odznetsi made his native Odzun church vaulted in the 8th century. Bell towers were added in the 19th century. 5th-13th centuries ․

There was a school with 2 classes inside the church, and in the 13th century a school was built in the churchyard. The walls of the church are decorated from inside and outside with many high-art sculptures and ornaments typical of early Christian art. The wall sculptures belonging to the 4th century particularly stand out. The walls are decorated with biblical images, on the Eastern front is Christ holding the Gospel of John, on the Southern wall is the Second Coming of the Savior․ The sculpture of the soaring angel is considered a world-class masterpiece, which dates back to the 5th century. The high-art sculpture of the Virgin Mary hugging the baby Jesus on the west side of the church has been moved to the baptismal part of the church to protect it from possible injuries. The sculpture is beautifully preserved․ Jesus’ gaze is very expressive, even the folds of Mary’s dress are visible.

There is an obelisk-monument near the church. A double arch is placed on a 2.4 m high pedestal with steps, in the niches of which there are 4-meter columns covered with high sculptures. There are various sculptures on the monument, which represent the Armenian King Trdat III, Gregory the Illuminator, King Abgar, the Hripsime virgins, scenes of the conversion of King Trdat persecuting Gregory the Illuminator, as well as other images from the Old and New Testaments. According to researchers, this monument symbolizes the victory of Christianity not only in Armenia, but also in Georgia and Aghvank. The style of the monument suggests that it is a 6th century structure. According to the legend, the body of the Armenian king Smbat I Bagratuni, who was martyred in Dvin, is summed up under him. The 5th century St. Tsaghkevank or St. Tsiranavor church of Odzun is located at a distance of 0-5 km from St. Astvatsatsin.

The appearance of St. Tsiranavor, built on the edge of the deep gorge of the Debed River, shows that it has been repaired and changed many times. The church built of blue basalt was renovated with apricot-color stone. The arches of the church are apricot-color, which were later closed with stone, and the church became a depository. It has reached us in a half-ruined state. According to popular belief, it cures childhood flower disease. There are many places of pilgrimage with this name in Armenia. The name apricot is connected with the worship of the Virgin Mary in an apricot dress, who is the protector of these children.

According to the legend, in the 1st century the Apostle Thomas, a disciple of Christ, came to Odzun and lived here for some time. He had a vision in which he was told to go to India, where he would be martyred. The residents of Odzun were against his departure. It is said that he had some of Christ’s clothes with him and, as a consolation, the apostle left the Savior’s child-time diaper here, which was wrapped under the tabernacle. Above the southern door there is an inscription: “I, Thomas, brought this diaper here” and an inscription in big letters “Tovma”. The entrance is named after him. According to the legend, the apostle Thomas anointed the priests and bishops here. Hence the name Odzun, which means anoint in Armenian.

Horomayr Monastery

St. Nshan Monastery in Horomayr is one of the most important educational and cultural centers of the 13th century. The sanctuary has a group of monuments above and below. The lower group of monuments is in Debed gorge, under an impregnable rock, consisting of a church-bell tower, two churches, chapels and khachkars. The surrounding cave dwellings and the inaccessible location of the monastery testify that the people took refuge here during the attacks of the enemies. The upper group of monuments is located on the plateau above Debed gorge. These are two churches with an adjoining vestibule.

Time has erased the path connecting the upper and lower churches, making the monastery in the middle of the gorge inaccessible to pilgrims. The Holy Sign has been mentioned since the 8th century and is connected with the name of Hovhan Odznetsi. The church-bell tower, according to the inscriptions, was called Surb Nshan, this name, presumably, later spread to the whole monument. The people call it Horomayr.

A cold spring originates from St. Nshan Church, which, according to the people of Odzn, is healing. Many legends are connected with this monastery. One of them says that the cross of Peter Getadardz was brought here, with which he changed the course of the river during the water blessing, surprising the Byzantine emperor and the people. After this miracle the monastery was called St. Nshan.


The church complex of Ardvi was built in the 8th-12th centuries. It consists of two adjacent churches, a bell tower and monastic buildings. The monastery was fenced, the economic buildings were destroyed, west of the complex is a medieval cemetery with ancient khachkars.

This is where the medieval jurist, political scientist, public figure, diplomat Hovhannes Odznetsi, after leaving the Odzun monastery spent his last years of his life in prayers. His body is buried in St. John’s Church. The monastery of Ardvi is a sanctuary, with which, according to the pilgrims, many miracles are connected. The day of the covenant of the sanctuary is April 17. The world-famous Sergey Parajanov’s famous film “The Color of Pomegranate” was shot in Sanahin, Haghpat և Ardvi monasteries. Episodes from the movie “We are our mountains” were shot here.


Kobayravank is а masterpiece among medieval Armenian architectural monuments. The monastic complex is distinguished by architectural solutions, and frescoes. The complex seems to be intertwined with the rocks, which polished to become the floor of the church in one case and the wall in the other.

Kobayr was a significant educational and cultural center of the 12th century. The famous 12th century chronicler David Kobayretsi worked here. This monastery complex is located on the high plateau of Debed gorge, which makes it very impregnable. In the Middle Ages, the high, impregnable terrain of the Armenian Highlands was used not only for the construction of sanctuaries but also for fortifications. And the construction of monasteries on the rocks or adjacent to them contributed to their longevity.

The monastery is surrounded by rocks, in which the hard-to-reach caves served not only as shelters, hermitages, but also as shelters. At present, the three churches of the complex, the bell tower-tomb, the refectory, the remains of chapels, khachkars and the high fortress wall are partially preserved. The walls of the buildings are mostly polished. The main church is based on a special structure of cyclopean structures. The church is distinguished by its splendor and elegant frescoes. The bell tower-tomb is one of the rare buildings of its kind, combining the bell tower with the tomb. From this comes a spring, the water of which, according to the believers, is sacred. The drainage system of the complex is remarkable․

The creative mind of our ancestors took care that the water flowed out of the water-rich Kobayr area through clay pipes and grooves dug in the rocks. In the middle of the 13th century, Kobayr passed from the Kyurikyans to the Zakaryans, becoming a Chalcedonian. This is the reason for the existence of Georgian inscriptions on some monuments and tombstones. Shahnshah, the son of Zakare Amirspasalar, is buried in Kobayr. From the 15th-16th centuries the monastic complex was returned to the Armenian Apostolic Church. The name of the monastery is connected with the word “ayr” (kob).


St. Astvatsatsin Monastery in Akhtala is one of the masterpieces of medieval architecture, a unique monument of Armenian Chalcedonian culture. This monastic complex occupies a unique place in the Armenian medieval culture. Medieval spiritual scientist, translator Simeon Pghndzahanetsi worked here.

St. Astvatsatsin is a unique structure in the world, where unique frescoes occupying an area of ​​about 960 square meters have been preserved. The two-layer, high-art frescoes depict passages from the Old and New Testaments, the apostles Peter, John, Paul, and the evangelists Luke and Matthew. On the dome of the tabernacle is the image of the Virgin Mary with the baby Jesus, below it is the scene of the last supper, where Jesus is depicted twice, leaning to the right to distribute wine to the Apostle Paul “as his own blood”, to the left to distribute bread to the Apostle Peter. as his body.”

Below are images of the saints of the Christian churches, painted in full height, the patriarch of Rome Selbestros, John of Voskeberan, Barsegh of Caesarea, Gregory the Illuminator, Gregory the Magnificent, Gregory the Theologian and others. The western wall of the church depicts the kingdom of heaven, and the northern wall depicts the sufferings of Jesus. By the way, the frescoes are made of worm red, lazurite (it is not accidental that the latter is made of copper), with colors obtained from their combination. The monastery is the largest temple named after St. Astvatsatsin in the Caucasus region. The church building is decorated with huge crosses, which are the largest in Armenia.

On the wall of the Holy Mother of God, a huge ornament of a toast tree is depicted on the outside. The deep gorges of Debed are bordered on three sides by the Akhtala monastery, a fortified fortress located on a flat top of a high rock. Churches, a two-storey building, a refectory, dwellings, a chapel, chapels, a fortress-observatory, and other destroyed or standing monuments are part of the Akhtala monastic complex. According to researchers, the Akhtala fortress was founded in the 10th century by the Bagratuni-Kyurikyans, who ruled in this area until the end of the 12th century. The impregnable fortress of Akhtala, with its three rows of walls and towers, is one of the relatively well-preserved structures in the territory of Armenia, which had a defensive role and functioned until the 18th century.

There is an underground passage under the castle, which leads to the river to take water during the siege, to the mint of King Kyurike II. The first coins with the Armenian inscription known to us were minted here. Five of these unique copper coins are now housed in the History Museum of Yerevan, with the image of Jesus Christ on the obverse, inscribed “YS KS” – “Jesus Christ” on both sides, and on the reverse – “Lord, help Kyurike Kyuropaghat”. These coins weigh 3-8 g և similar to the Byzantine coins of the period. Information is also preserved about King Cyrus II’s silver coins.

After the fall of the Lori Kingdom, Akhtala passed to the Georgian kings Bagratuni with its mint. The mint is located in the castle, and the treasury is in Lenktemur Fortress, not far from the church. Unfortunately, in 1782, the Akhtala fortress was destroyed by Omar Khan of Avaria, and in 1795 it was finally destroyed by the Persian Muhammad Khan. The two-story palace of the Zakaryans in the castle is the only preserved royal palace in Armenia. It is connected to the four-storey tower by a subway from the lower floor. In front of the palace is the bathroom, the walls of which are plastered, clay and iron pipes are painted. Two such underground baths have been preserved in Armenia, one in Aruch. According to historical sources, Akhtala, as a settlement, existed in the 5th century and was called Agarak. It was probably the estate-farm of the Gugarat princes, which later became a settlement and took the same name. And the monastery was called Agarak monastery.

Monasteries and churches in Armenia are usually named after the settlement in which they were located. Agarak was later renamed the Copper Mine, probably because of the rich copper mines that existed there, and Agarak Monastery as the Copper Mine Monastery, in the gorge of which one can see an abandoned old mine from which copper and other metals were once mined. The monastery is mentioned as the Holy Mother of God of the Copper Mine in the inscription of the khachkar located in the territory of the monastic complex, in which Mariam, the daughter of Kyurike, reports that she built the Holy Mother of God in 1188. Later, the copper mine was renamed Akhtala. It is not known exactly when Agarak was renamed Copper Mine and then Akhtala.

According to the historical evidence, at the end of the 12th century the settlement was mentioned as Pghnzahank, from the 14th century the name “Pghndzahank” disappeared from the historical mentions. The 13th century is celebrated. In the Middle Ages, Akhtala was a Georgian archbishop. According to historians, this Chalcedonian temple was erected on the site of the former Copper Mine church or got its current appearance as a result of its reconstruction, as evidenced by the famous medieval chronicler Kirakos Gandzaketsi, who wrote that Prince Ivane Zakaryan “took it from the Armenians and turned it into Georgian.”

The chronicle refers to the church becoming a Chalcedonian church, after which it underwent serious changes. They are expressed in large vertical crosses on the four facades of the church, in the form of arched entrances, elongated windows, richly decorated sculptures, magnificent Chalcedonian frescoes, which are among the best created outside of Byzantium.

The appearance of the church, as well as the Georgian inscriptions preserved on the tombstones, led the Georgian church to assume that the monastery was Georgian. However, this is explained by the fact that it was forbidden to make Armenian inscriptions in the cultural centers under the control of the Georgian Kingdom. Despite that, the Armenian fresco masters left a memory of themselves with secrets. At the same time, the Armenian elements in the ornaments and other preserved evidence prove that Akhtala was built by Armenian masters.

The combination of Armenian and Georgian cultural traditions is the most important feature of the architectural design of Akhtala Church. The Akhtala monastery complex has become the care center of Chalcedonian Armenians, a medieval Armenian bibliographic center, and an Armenian-Georgian school. Unfortunately, the monastery’s manuscripts disappeared, were looted, damaged or moved to Moscow during the Soviet years. The famous Holy Cross of God, which Ivane Zakaryan received as a gift from Prince Vasak of Syunik, is kept in Akhtala Monastery.

In 1216, at the request of the Primate of the Diocese of Syunik, Ivane dedicated this sacred relic to Noravank. The bodies of Ivane Zakaryan and his son are also buried in the monastery. Unfortunately, the tombstones have not been preserved. In the 18th century, the monastery served the Greeks, who worked here in gold and copper mines. The Greek community grew at the expense of some 800 Greek families who moved here from the Ottoman Empire in the 18th century. In this connection, in 1801, by the order of the Russian Emperor Alexander I, the monastery was officially handed over to the Greeks. In the 19th century, Akhtala became the property of one of the Armenian ruling families, the Melikovs (Loris-Melikov). Their graves and tombstones with Russian and Georgian inscriptions are preserved. In the 20th century, the monastery was handed over to the Russian Orthodox Church, becoming the Mother Cathedral of the Russian Orthodox Church in the Caucasus.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the monastery returned to the Armenian Apostolic Church. The area of ​​Akhtala is an ancient settlement. Found here in BC. Monuments of 3-1 millennium, valuable cultural objects made of clay and metals, weapons, jewelry, household items belonging to the Copper Age civilization. In the 19th century, French archaeologist, historian, engineer Jacques de Morgan discovered a monument in Akhtala. Stone tombs of the 1st millennium, also a 6000-year-old bronze weapon – a casket, which is now kept in the Archaeological Museum of Paris. In the Middle Ages, the Akhtala-Copper Mine was a crowded settlement, as evidenced by the four castles built in the city.

Akhtala was also a multinational settlement ․ Representatives of 18 nations once lived here. Akhtala Copper Mining has a history of thousands of years, as evidenced by the medieval name of the city – Copper Mine. Here is the oldest factory in the Caucasus, the ore processing plant, built in 1763. The Holy Mother of God has the day of her covenant ․ Hundreds of believers come to Akhtala every year on September 20-21.

Many interesting legends have been preserved in connection with this magnificent sanctuary. According to the legend about the name of Akhtala, the bandits of Lenktemur captured the city, killed most of its population by sword, after which the destroyed city was filled with disease and was called Akhtala According to another legend, pilgrims died one after another due to the curse of a monk, the monastery was called Akhtal, that is, full of diseases.

Another legend tells that in BC. In the 2nd century, the Armenian king Artashes I visited Akhtala and wanted to see the copper mine. The master working for Kura, seeing the royal ring of Artashes, very quickly, skillfully made a ring like a king’s ring from copper. Admiring the mastery of the coppersmith, the king presented him with his ring. Inspired by this legend, in 2010 a bronze sculpture of rings was erected in the territory of St. Astvatsatsin Monastery, a monument to wedding rings. The two rings unite the pomegranate as a fruit of the tree of life, a symbol of fertility.

The monument has a symbol to bring happiness to the newlyweds ․ The fruit is born from the unity of man and woman. According to the established tradition, the newlyweds, with the expectation of a happy life, go through the rings.


Little historical information is preserved about the Hnevank monastery complex.

The architectural style suggests that the main building of the monastery, Katoghike, belongs to the 7th century. According to the locals, the name of the monastery means Greek monastery, as a three-storey Greek-style cross is depicted on the front of its porch, which became the reason for considering the monastery Greek.

In the 12th-13th centuries the monastery passed to the Armenian Chalcedonians. The ownership of Hnevank was disputed by the Georgian Church due to the existence of Georgian inscriptions. The truth is that this monastery was built by Armenians, served the Chalcedonians – Armenians, Georgians or Greeks.

In general, the church building does not differ from the Armenian Apostolic churches, except for the dome. Hnevank consists of three churches, a vestibule, residential, economic and auxiliary buildings. The inscriptions testify that Armenian clergymen served here, whose names are preserved on the tombstones.

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