Geghard

Geghard monastery is 40 km far from Yerevan. The spectacular towering cliffs surrounding the monastery are part of the Azat River gorge (Symphony of Stones), and are included together with the monastery in the World Heritage Site listing. Some of the churches within the monastery complex are entirely dug out of the cliff rocks, others are little more than caves. The monastic complex includes "Katoghike" Chapel, the vestry (gavit), rock-cut church with spring (avazan), Holy Mother God cave church, mausoleum of local principal family, and the chapel of S. Grigor. They are dated back from the 12th to the 14th centuries, but the monastic complex was founded in the 4th century by Gregory the Illuminator.

The monastery had been originally named Ayrivank, meaning "the Monastery of the Cave". All around the monastery are caves, which were for monks. The name commonly used for the monastery today, Geghard, meaning "the Monastery of the Spear", originates from the spear (lance) which had wounded Jesus at the Crucifixion, allegedly brought to Armenia by Apostle Thaddeus, and stored among two other relics (in Rome and Vienna). Later Armenia lost its independence and statehood, and the Holy Lance was moved to the mountains, to keep it save. In the beginning of the 20th century the Spear was moved back to the Etchmiadzin treasury, where it is displayed now. The Holy Lance was kept in the monastery for 500 years, the monastery was renamed the Monastery of Geghard.

Katoghike church was built against the mountain, which is not exposed even in the interior. The plan forms an equal-armed cross, inscribed in a square and covered with a dome on a square base. The southern facade has a portal with fine carvings. The tympanum is decorated with a representation of trees with pomegranates hanging from their branches, and of leaves intertwining with grapes. The cupola's drum has detailed reliefs showing birds, human masks, animals heads, various rosettes and jars. West of the main temple there is a rock-attached vestry (gavit), linked to the main church. Four massive free-standing columns in the centre support a roof of stone with a hole in the centre to admit light. The central space is crowned by a dome with stalactites.

The first cave chamber, Avazan (basin), is an ancient cave with a spring. The interior is lined by two crossed arches with a central stalactite dome. Two pairs of intersecting pointed arches, forming the base of the tent, rest on the half-columns of the walls. The second cave chamber, Astvatsatsin (Mother God) was hewn in 1283. In the center, there is a ram's head with a chain in its jaws; the chain is wound around the necks of two lions. Between them and below the chain there is an eagle with half-spread wings and a lamb in its claws. The corners are curved and the drum is lined with semi-columns alternating with blind windows. The dome is decorated, with a circular opening in the centre. Another carved mausoleum is located upper.

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