Vagarshapat, Republic of Armenia
The Mother Cathedral of Holy Etchmiadzin is the centre of the Armenian Apostolic Church. The monastery complex is located in the city of Vagharshapat, Armavir Region. It is the first cathedral built in Armenia and one of the ancient cathedrals in the world. The cathedral was built and consecrated by Gregory the Illuminator and King Trdat the Great in 303 AD, after adopting Christianity as a state religion. It was built on the basis of an old pagan temple and became the symbol of the transformation of the religion.
According to the legend, Saint Gregory the Illuminator had a prophetic vision in which Jesus Christ descended from heaven and with his golden staff pointed to the place where the church was to be built. St. Gregory told the king about his dream and in 301 King Trdat III supported the foundation of Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin. Etchmiadzin is translated from the Armenian language as “the Descent of the Only-Begotten”.
According to historian Pavstos Buzand, the cathedral and the city of Vagharshapat were almost completely destroyed during the invasion of Persian King Shapur II in the 360. Until the end of the 5th century, the church was half-ruined. According to Ghazar Pharpetsi, it was rebuilt by Vahan Mamikonyan in 483-484.
Though the cathedral was renovated many times through the centuries and some alterations were made in the 17th and 19th centuries, it retains the form of the building constructed in 483/4. The fifth-century building is the heart of the cathedral, while the stone cupola, belfry, and rear extension are all later additions.
There are 5 monasteries in Etchmiadzin: Mother Cathedral of Holy Etchmiadzin, St. Hripsime, St. Gayane, St. Shoghakat and St. Virgin Mariam.
St. Hripsime Church is one of the oldest well-preserved churches in the country. It was built by Catholicos Komitas in the 7th century. The relics of the martyred Saint Hripsime to whom the church is dedicated were buried under the church.
St. Gayane Church is a three-nave domed basilica with an octagonal drum resting on four internal pillars․ It was built by Catholicos Ezra I in the 7th century. The church is dedicated to abbess Gayane.
St. Shoghakat was built by Prince Aghamal Sհorotetsi in 1694 during the reign of Catholicos Nahabed I. The name of the church means "drop of light". The legend says that a ray of light came down from heaven upon the site where the Christian nuns were tortured and killed before Christianity was adopted as a state religion. The church is a single-nave domed basilica with arched courtyard.
The monastery complex of Etchmiadzin was included in the UNESCO world heritage list in 2001.