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Haghpat, Sanahin, Odzun

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Haghpat Monastery Complex

Haghpat Complex was built by the order of Queen Khosrovanuysh in the 10th century. It is located in the village of the same name 170 km (106 mi) North from Yerevan. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage monument. From 11th to 14th centuries Haghpat had a widely known school and library. Scholars have studied philosophy, oratory, theology, music and other subjects in this institution. Manuscripts were copied here with added miniature painting. The monastery was added to UNESCO Cultural Heritage List in 1996.

St Nshan Church

St Nshan is the oldest and the most important church of the complex. It was built in the years 976 – 991 by the order of Queen Khosrovanuysh. The chapel of the church had frescos some of which are preserved to our days. The famous Armenian song-writer and poet Sayat-Nova has lived here for several years.

The Chapel

The chapel has been built in 1257 and bears the name of the priest Hamazasp who organized the construction. It has four powerful columns and a big hall.

Bell Tower

The bell tower is situated on the east side of the church, in front of the main entrance. Built in 1245, It is considered by many a jewel of Armenian architecture. The tower has 7 columns.

Dining Hall

The dining hall was built in the 13th century. It has a rectangular form divided into 2 square parts by a couple of columns. The entrance is from the west side – outside the outer wall.

St Gregory Church

St Gregory church was built in 1025. It is situated to the south of narthex (gavit). It has a rectangular shape from the outside and a cross-shaped form from inside.

St Mother of God (Astvatsatsin) Church

Built in the 13th century this church is on the north side of the narthex (gavit) – symmetric to the St Gregory church. It’s a small, domed building with heavy symmetries.


On the East side of the St Nshan’s North gate, you can find an artfully decorated khachkar with fine ornaments of a master. It’s called “Amenaprkich” (“God the Saviour”) crafted in 1273.

Near the north-west corner of the outer wall, there is a 13th-century chapel-tomb of Ukanants dynasty covered with skillfully crafted khachkars.

The Legend

There is a legend explaining the meaning behind the monastery’s name. A prince hires some master builders to build a monastery in Sanahin. Lead architect was an old man, his son was also there. During the construction process, a quarrel occurred between father and the son because of a disagreement. The son, together with a craftsman, left the construction site. On their way back another prince hired them to build a monastery for him. When the walls erected by the son became visible from Sanahin workers told the old master about them. One day he paid a visit to his son’s construction site. He went around watching the building. Finally, he pushes a stone on the wall and exclaims:  “Akh, pat” which literally means “Ah, just a wall”. Both father and son hug each other – disagreement is settled. After that, the monastery was called “Haghpat”. There are hewn caves in the surrounding cliffs to protect the villagers during the enemy invasions. The manuscripts and monastery treasures were also kept in those caves.

Sanahin Monastery

Sanahin monastery was built around the same time as Haghpat monastery in the 10th century. The name Sanahin, translated from Armenian means “this is older than the other” probably alluding to the fact that Sanahin is older than the neighboring Haghpat monastery. Both monasteries stand not far from each other divided by the creek of river Debed. With its elaborate arcs and beautiful architecture Sanahin favorably holds the comparison to Haghpat.

As it is the case with Haghpat Sanahin was also a major educational and cultural center of its time. The monastery complex has continued to evolve by adding new buildings for some 3 centuries. Each new building was planned so as to take into account the position and stylistic specialties of the adjacent buildings.

The Monastery Buildings

St Mother of God (Astvatsatsin) Church, St God the Saviour (Katoghike) Church, Seminary, St Gregory Chapel, stationery, Bell Tower, St Jacob Church, St Haroutyoun Chapel, and mausoleums.

St Mother of God (Astvatsatsin) Church

This church has a typical medieval Armenian classical architecture with a dome. The dome originally had a polyhedral shape that was changed to cylindrical shape during the 1652 overhaul with a cone-like structure on the top. Some remnants of frescos can still be spotted on inside walls to this day.

St God the Saviour (Katoghike) Church

This is the main and biggest church of the complex. It is situated South to St Astvatsatsin church, 4 m (4.4 yards) apart. With its huge size, this church has a dominating grandeur and a central position within the complex. The church has a set of magnificent arcs. On the top of the east wall, there is an interesting sculpture depicting Kyurike and Smbat princes each of which eventually became ruling kings in different regions. They are depicted to their full heights holding the model of the church. This sculpture, with its original idea and masterful realization, has set a precedent for other similar works in medieval Armenian architecture.


Over 50 khachkars are preserved in the monastery territory. Of particular historical value and artful craft is “Grigor Tuetordi” khachkar created in 1184. This khachkar is located under the north wall of St Harutyoun church. The other prominent khachkar created in 1215 is a tombstone of a martyr named “Samvel”. It is attached to the west wall of the narthex (gavit) of ST Astvatsatsin church.

Odzun Church

Constructed around the 5th – 7th centuries Odzun is a church situated in the village of the same name. This church has an interesting connotation of Hinduism because a large Hindu community has once dwelled in the area. The church was influenced by Hindu symbolism. Odzun church is several kilometers apart from Haghpat and Sanahin monasteries. The name Odzun comes from the Armenian word “otsel” which means “to ordain”.

The Legend

The legend has it that one of the 12 apostles of Jesus – Thomas the Apostle, came here in 1 AD to ordain the priests of Odzun church. Before leaving for India he buried the clothes that Jesus was wrapped in under the altar of the church. There is a 6th-century inscription above the southern door of the church recounting this story.

Short History

Throughout the history of Odzun there was one particularly famous religious leader (Catholicos) named Hovhan (John) the Philosopher Odznetsi (from Odzun). He had studied philosophy and theology, people revered him. Stories about him reached to Caliph Omar – the Arab leader residing in Syria. Armenia was under the Arab governance at that time. Seeing John Odznetsi in fine clothes made from delicate materials Caliph Omar asked him how come he was so well dressed as opposed to the modest clothing of Jesus and his disciples. John Odznetsi then showed him the ragged garments under his sumptuous clothes. Caliph also saw the scars on his body left from an ascetic lifestyle. After that day the Caliph started to admire Catholicos. He made many concessions to Armenian church by exempting it from taxes and allowed preaching Christianity. Armenia was protected from Byzantine invasions and Bagratuni dynasty was later established.

The Obelisk

There is a double-obelisk monument outside of the church. This monument has an interesting history. According to a legend it was gifted to Armenians by an Indian king. According to another account, it was erected by Armenians to commemorate bloody fight victims of both Hindus and Armenians. A large Hindu community had established in this region. A fight broke on the religious ground when Armenia adopted Christianity as a state religion in 301 AD.

Hindu Symbolism

On both sides of the windows near the dome, there are sculpted statues of angels holding snakes which are entwined below the bust of Jesus. This is very odd in Christian iconography because a snake is a symbol of evil in Christianism and it’s never depicted together with Jesus. A likely explanation is a Hindu influence. Hindus had lived in the area for around 5 centuries so it’s possible for their beliefs and characteristic motifs to be blended with local traditions. In Hinduism snake is a sacred reptile.

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