The settlements and natural landscape of Armenia are decorated with many monastic complexes, chapels, khachkars, which are harmoniously assimilated into the environment where they were built. The construction of monastic complexes in high mountains, deep gorges or forests far from settlements had two reasons. First, the path to the house of God had to be inaccessible to the believer; and second, the monastic complexes had to be protected from the enemies, since it was the place where the creative thought was – knowledge that should be protected and passed to the next generations. In the developed Middle Ages, monastic complexes were large centers of thought, culture and education, where both spiritual and secular sciences developed. They are the ever-living witnesses of your history and culture, no matter whether complete or destroyed.
The Haghartsin monastic complex (10th-13th centuries) was a religious educational, cultural and scientific center of Armenia. It is located in Aghst valley, about 18 km away from Dilijan City. The unique Haghartsin, the “White Queen”, surrounded by dense forests, seems to rule over the surroundings.
The Haghartsin monastery complex consists of 10-13th centuries churches of St. Gregory, St. Astvatsatsin, St. Katoghike, and St. Stepanos, chapels, vestibules, mausoleum-bell tower, bakery, refectory, watermill, monastery, as well as 15 high art khachkars. The monastery has had a fence and several villages belonging to the monastery, a congregation of about 200 people. The numerous lithographic inscriptions of the monastery provide rich information about the cultural, political and economic events of the era. The first building of the complex is St. Gregory the Illuminator Church. No protocols on its construction have been preserved. It is suggested that it was built by the Bagratunis in the 10-11th centuries. St. Astvatsatsin was built in 1071. It is the main church of the monastery. There is an interesting sculpture on the east wall of the outside of the Holy Mother of God: two monks are holding the model of the church, and above it there is an eagle. The sculpture seems to confirm the etymology of the name of the monastery, according to which, during the consecration of Haghartsin, the Holy Spirit soared above the dome, taking the form of an eagle, as if “playing” in the air. The word “game” in the local dialect is pronounced “hagh”, which was joined by the modified version of the word “eagle” and became “Haghartsin”. In historical sources, the monastery is also called Khaghartsin. Haghartsin Monastic School was founded by poet, musician, leader of the Congregation Khachatur Taronatsi. According to the historian Kirakos Gandzaketsi, he brought “a special shine and fame” to the Congregation. Khachatur Taronatsi, having mastered the deposits of careful music, founded a specialized music school near the monastery. The talented musician-scientist has taught music և philosophical sciences, paying special attention to the improvement of the art of music. During the renovation of the church in 2010-11, an underground hiding place was discovered, 5 m deep and 3.5 m wide. No information was found about its significance, it probably served as a shelter for people, or the church belongings were hidden here. In 1881, a bronze portable baptismal pool was discovered in the monastery’s refectory, which is kept in the History Museum of Armenia. The refectory, built in the 13th century, is a masterpiece of Armenian architecture. It is a building with high art, skilled architectural solutions, the soft light scattered from the ornate dome completes its description. The royal tomb of the 10th-11th centuries is presumably the Kyurikyan dynasty. Here is buried the body of George III, the father of Queen Tamar of Georgia.
Haghartsin was destroyed during the Seljuk-Turkish invasions in the 12th century, then it was restored by the efforts of the Artsrunis, Zakaryans and the Georgian King George III, who settled here, becoming the center of spiritual, cultural, scientific thought of Armenia. Musicology in particular has developed from the sciences here. A century-old walnut tree grows next to St. Astvatsatsin Church in Haghartsin, which, according to experts, is the same age as the church. According to the legend, it was planted by the master builder of the monastery, who used to plant walnut next to the churches he built. Over time, this huge tree had a large bellows in which the visitors of the monastery loved to be photographed, but in 2013, due to human negligence, the centuries-old beauty caught fire. There is a special khachkar next to the walnut․ The flowering branches of the cross continue, re-seeding, creating a double cross-shape. It has the symbol of resurrection. The underpass leads from the monastery complex to the river. In the territory of the monastery, on the rocky slopes, there are prayer halls. The 350 kg bronze cauldron found in Haghartsin is a masterpiece of metallurgy. The year of preparation is engraved on it – 1232. The boiler handles look like lions. The bronze cauldron is kept in the History Museum of Armenia. At the beginning of the 20th century, Archimandrite Poghos gave shelter here to the children who escaped from the Armenian Genocide, whose descendants now live in Dilijan. According to another etymology of the name of the monastery, hagar means a panther, tsin means to give birth, to be born. Haghartsin was the place where panthers were or are born. Haghartsin was renovated with the funding of Sheikh Dr. Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, the Governor of Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates. During an official visit to Armenia in 2005, he visited Haghartsin and admired its beauty and magnificent architecture. Feeling the presence of God here, the sheikh separated for about 15 minutes in St. Gregory the Illuminator Church and prayed. After that he confessed that he was deeply influenced by the sacred power of the monastery. According to the testimonies, there is a renovated image of Haghartsin in the office of an Arab benefactor, and the sheikh is very proud of the work done.
Goshavank or Nor Getik is located in Gosh village, on the bank of Getik river. It was built in 12-13th centuries․ It was a spiritual, large educational and cultural center.
The monastery complex was built near the Getik monastery, which was completely destroyed by a powerful earthquake, in the beautiful Tandzut gorge surrounded by forests. The great medieval scientist, jurist, pedagogue, fable writer, psychologist Mkhitar Gosh was educated and served in Getik. Uniting the monks after the earthquake, he founded the Nor Getik monastery with the support of Prince Ivane Zakaryan, which gained great fame in a few years. People from different parts of Armenia came to study at Gosh․ The teacher was known both for his virtuous behavior and as a great scientist. After the death of Mkhitar Gosh, Nor Getik was renamed Goshavank. Goshavank Seminary, a large scientific-educational center of the time, which in historical sources was called a monastery, university, taught the art of writing, Armenian, Greek, Latin, law, grammar, philosophy, calendar, rhetoric, music, medicine, painting. By the way, here for the first time jurisprudence has been studied as a separate direction of science. The formation of the complex took 100 years, including St. Astvatsatsin, St. Gregory, St. Gregory the Illuminator, St. Gorg churches, a vestibule, a library-bell tower, chapels, khachkars, the tomb of Mkhitar Gosh. The main church of the monastery is St. Astvatsatsin, which was founded in 1191. According to the inscription preserved in the vestibule of Goshavank, the church was built by the famous architect Mkhitar Hyus. It is said that he received the nickname “Carpenter” for the first wooden church built in Nor Getik. The inscription left on the arch of the vestibule of St. Astvatsatsin testifies that the architect worked in Nor Getik from childhood to old age. St. Gregory the Illuminator Church is small in size and very elegant, which is why the 13th century historian Kirakos Gandzaketsi (who studied in Goshavank) called it “marvelous”. The decoration of the church is one of the exceptional manifestations of the Armenian medieval decorative art. The Goshavank bookstore-bell tower was an example for the two-storey churches of the 14th century. Many manuscripts have been preserved in the monastery, some of which, unfortunately, have not been preserved, they were destroyed during the hostile attacks, also during the years of Sovietization of Armenia. The magnificent appearance of Goshavank is completed by high-art khachkars. The “decorated” khachkars on both sides of the entrance of St. Gregory the Illuminator Church (one of them is now in the History Museum of Armenia) are unique in their kind, as they are the first samples of “decorated” khachkars. The khachkars of Master Poghos are, in general, masterpieces of Armenian khachkar making. After the death of Mkhitar Gosh, his students built St. George’s Church on the hill on the site of their teacher’s house. In 1958, a monument dedicated to Mkhitar Gosh was erected near his tomb. Later the Goshavank Museum was opened.
Mkhitar Gosh is the exceptional medieval scientist who has twice been awarded the title of monk. After studying for eight years and being ordained a monk, Mkhitar left for Cilicia to study at the mysterious Red Monastery on Mount S. It was unique in that it was built during the Crusades. Here, receiving the title of monk for the second time, he settled in Nor Getik after some wanderings, making his knowledge serve his people.
Contemporaries called Mkhitar Gosh “a wise and meek man”, “a great monk”, “a famous, great sage”, who played a major role in the secularization of medieval culture. The most famous of his 10 books that have reached us are “The Book of Judgment” (1184) and “Fables”. Gosh’s ” Book of Judgment” was born from a public, ecclesiastical, political, state demand. It was aimed at preserving the national identity. Gosh mentioned 12 reasons for creating the “The Book of Judgment”, the first of which was that foreigners reprimanded Armenians for not having their own laws. The Book of Judgment was a real revolution in the feudal era. After writing the “Book of Judgment”, Gosh sent a copy to the Catholicos of Cilicia, asking him to read it carefully, without a hurry, and if he considered it useless, to order to burn not only that copy, but also the original one. Fortunately, the “Book of Judgments” was approved, unfortunately, it has been distorted over the centuries. There are now three ancient examples in the Matenadaran, Venice and the Zmar archives, and it is difficult to say which is the original written by Gosh. The Armenian “Book of Judgment” not only operated in Armenia, but was translated into other languages, becoming the basis of the legislative systems of different countries. For example, at the end of the 18th century, King Vakhtang VI of Georgia ordered that it be translated and used in Georgia. The Book of Judgment was first published in 1880 in France. In the 1970s and 1980s, it was even used in some Armenian communities, particularly in the Armenian community of Sudan. In the 16th century, the “Book of Judgment” was used by the Polish-Armenians as a code regulating public relations.
Environmental issues were raised for the first time in the “Book of Judgment”, to which the lawyer dedicated 11 articles, according to which fines were imposed, for example, for cutting a flowering tree or slaughtering a pregnant animal. Gosh referred to women’s rights. At the time, in the event of a divorce, the wife would return to her father’s house empty-handed, leaving all her property to her husband. And according to the law established by Mkhitar Gosh, the jointly acquired property was to be shared between the ex-spouses. ” There is a legend connected with the origin of the name “Gosh”, according to which Mkhitar had a dream, in which God told him that there would be an abundance of bread for 7 years, and hunger for 7 years. It is necessary to gather resources so that the people do not starve. Mkhitar built large barns and filled them with wheat when there was plenty of bread. When the famine started, he distributed wheat to the people with gush (round wooden bowl), after which the people called him “Mkhitar Gush-Gosh”.
In Armenian, the word “gosh” means thin-haired, with a thin beard. According to the popular opinion, the name of the great scientist Gosh was conditioned by that.
One of the most famous centers of Tavush is the Moro Dzor monastery, which is located nearby Ijevan, in a beautiful forested gorge. Presumably, the monastery got its name from the nearby Mori gorge, which was rich in mori (raspberry in Armenian).
The main source of information about the monastery are the 12-13th centuries the lithographic inscriptions. The architectural features of the monastery and the ornamental sculptures suggest that it was founded in the early Middle Ages, 6-7th centuries and was rebuilt in 12-13th centuries. This famous center was destroyed by the Arab-Seljuk-Turkish invasions, later completely rebuilt and prospered in the 12th-13th centuries. After that, the references to Moro Dzor Monastery are silent. Of the famous monastic complex of the time, only the church of St. Astvatsatsin stands today and a few khachkars. No manuscripts written in Moro Dzor Monastery have reached us. The monastery is wonderfully harmonized with the beautiful environment, it is a standing witness of its centuries-old history.
Khoranashat monastic complex was built in the 13th century. It is one of the famous spiritual, cultural and creative centers of Armenia, with its high-class school and vardaparan. The founder of Khoranashat school is the monk Vardapet, a student of Mkhitar Gosh. The monk returned from Nor Getik to his birthplace, according to the preserved inscriptions, in 1211-1222. He built a monastery, which is called Khoranashat because of its many altars.
The monastery complex includes St. Astvatsatsin Church, the vestibule adjacent to it, and St. Kiraki and St. Hermit churches, the cemetery of the poor next to them, where, according to his will, the monk was buried, as well as other buildings. The educational system of Khoranashat Vardapetaran was based on the teaching of the “seven free arts”, the “quartet” and the “trinity” sciences. The students of the school studied for 7-8 years. In addition to other subjects, history, philosophy, grammar, rhetoric, bibliography, music, arithmetic, geometry, logic, etc. were taught in the seminary. In Khoranashat, monks’ works were used as textbooks, which were also used in other schools. According to Kirakos Gandzaketsi, the Khoranashat monastery was destroyed by Jalaleddin’s invasions, and the monk found refuge in a cave near the village of Lorut, where he had built a church. Here he continued to teach. The Mongols, knowing the place of the monk, captured his disciples, among whom was the future historian Kirakos Gandzaketsi. All the property of the church was looted: roundabouts, silver crosses, vessels, books. Some time later, the inhabitants of Gag Fortress paid a ransom of 80 dahek, released the monk, and Kirakos, who was a translator and scribe in the Mongol army, fled to a shelter in the New Getik Monastery. Returning to Khoranashat, the monk restored the monastery, the school և continued to teach. It is interesting that Khoranashat vardapetaran stood out in the field of historiography, Haghartsin school in the field of musicology and calligraphy, Deghdzut school in the art of writing and copying books, Nor Getik vardapetan in the forge of teachers and travelers.
Makaravank is a 13th century monastic complex built on a mountain slope. The monastery, with its diversity and richness of unique sculptures, occupies an important place in Armenian architecture and church building, ranking among the Akhtamar and Gandzasar. There is a historical memory about the monastery, the author of which, the historian Kirakos Gandzaketsi, writes that the wife of Prince Vakhtang of Haterk, Arzu Khatun, with her daughter, donated embroidered curtains to Dadivank, Haghpatavank, Gtchavank և Makar.
The medieval monastic complex includes St. Gregory the Illuminator, St. Astvatsatsin, St. Hovhannes, small Astvatsatsin churches, vestibule, chapel, relic, fountain, auxiliary buildings. The oldest church of the St. Gregory the Illuminator of 11th-12th centuries, although there are reasons to suppose that it was founded in the 7th century. The main church is St. Astvatsatsin with delicate and rich ornaments. According to an extensive khachkar inscription, the church was built by Vardan, the son of Prince Bazaz, in 1205. The original, unique sculptures on the front of the stage with images of mythical animals are masterpieces of medieval art. The sculpture of a man holding tools with the inscription “Young” is interesting, which is probably the name of the master-architect of the church. The whole monastic complex is decorated, has symbolic ornamental sculptures, delicate, “embroidered” sculptures. The windows have decorative frames, the walls have animal sculptures. During the Soviet years, a beautiful khachkar-monument with floral and geometric ornaments was dug out from the earth, on which it is written that Makaravank was built by Vardan, the son of Prince Bazaz, in memory of his brothers. The 105 khachkars were covered with soil. During the Soviet years, the underground passage of the monastery, which led to the nearby Achajur community, was closed, the church was turned into a warehouse. An interesting and sad legend has been preserved about the construction of the monastery, according to which the monastery was built by Master Makar and his only son. The latter cut the stones and decorated them, and the father arranged them. The walls of the church were rising high, and the father was spending the days and nights on them, as he had sworn not to go down until he had finished the construction. But one day he noticed that the stones are not well worked, and the ornaments are different. He asked from above what happened to his son. The master was told that he was sick. The father understood everything. They hid the death of their son from him. The master did not stop building the monastery, but when he finished it, he threws himself from the top down and died. He is buried under the wall of the monastery; the monastery is called Makaravank.
Anapat or Nor Varagavank is a 12th century monastic complex built by the Kyurikyans. It is located near Varagavan village, on the slope of a forested mountain. This monastery, which stands out with its delicate decoration, is called “Queen of the North” or “White Queen” by the locals. The care center consists of two churches, two vestibules, three chapels and an ark.
The desert was called Nor Varagavank, when during the Mongol invasions the monk Ghukas, the abbot of Varagavank of Vaspurakan, saved the relic of the cross of Christ and brought it here in 1237. This historical fact is recorded on the wall of the church. The cross was kept in Nor Varagavank by 1651, from where it was transferred to the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin. Every year on the feast of the Holy Cross of Varaga the relic of the Lord’s cross is brought to Nor Varagavank to bless the pilgrims. Manuscript Gospels written in other places are kept in Nor Varagavank. It is said that the monastery is the patron saint of love and family. Here, couples who have no children and those who are going to get married come to the covenant․ It is not accidental that almost all the khachkars of the monastery are in pairs.