Yerevan, Armenia. Holy Echmiadzin is a cathedral
built in the year 301, the oldest in the world, soon
after Christianity was established as the official
state religion of Armenia It is currently part of an
ecclesiastic compound of the Holy See of the
Armenian Apostolic Church.
It was originally built by Saint Gregory the
Illuminator as a vaulted basilica in 301-303, when
Armenia was the only country in the world the state
religion of which was Christianity. According to the
5th-century Armenian annals, St. Gregory had a
vision of Christ descending from heaven and striking
the earth with a golden hammer to show where the
cathedral should be built. Hence, the patriarch gave
the church and the city the new name of Echmiadzin,
which may be translated as "the place where the Only
Begotten descended".480, Vahan Mamikonian, the Roman
governor of Armenia, ordered the dilapidated
basilica to be replaced with a new cruciform church.
In 618, the wooden dome was replaced with a stone
one, resting on four massive pillars linked to
exterior walls by arcades. This was the church much
as it is today. Murals in the interior and
extravagant rotundas surmounting the apses appeared
in the early 18th century. A three-tier belfry was
constructed half a century earlier. The cathedral
formerly boasted the largest collection of Armenian
medieval manuscripts, but these were lately handed
over to the Matenadaran, or Mashtots Institute of
Ancient Manuscripts in Yerevan is one of the richest
depositories of manuscripts and books in the world.
The collection dates back to 405, when Saint Mesrop
Mashtots created the Armenian alphabet.
The entrance to the cathedral
The cemetery of Catholicoses.
It is currently part of an ecclesiastic compound
of the Holy See of the Armenian Apostolic Church,
much like the Vatican is for the Roman Catholic
Church. The Patriarch (called "Catholicos")of the
world's 8 million Armenian Orthodox resides here.
The compound is also home to several smaller chapels
as well as a monastic institute. The cathedral is
home to one of the Armenian church's finest choirs,
which can be heard weekly at mass, which is called
the Badarak. Armenian traditional worship services
are similar to the old High Mass of the Latin
churches, in that the entire liturgy is sung, led by
the priest and deacons, with choir solos and
responses. The liturgical music is based on very
ancient Armenian music traditions, and listening to
the Badarak is a mystical experience that will draw
your spirit back to a very ancient time and place in
Armenian Christian history, even if you aren't
familiar with the Armenian language itself.
The main Altar.
In addition to an octagonal dome which rests on
four stone pillars rising from the center of the
church, the cathedral also has a prominent bell
tower, which is not always a part of smaller
Armenian churches. The entire cathedral and
surrounding compound is built with multicolored
volcanic tufa stone, an unusual geological form of
calcite rock. In the courtyard surrounding the
cathedral are extensive rose gardens. The rose is a
sacred flower in the Armenian church, and rose oil
is a component of holy Muron, the anointing oil used
in the church.
All Armenian angels appear with 6 wings as
described in Isaiah 6.