H11, 0612, Republic of Armenia
The fame of the Khor Virap as a monastery and pilgrimage site is related to the fact that Grigor Lusavorich (Gregory the Illuminator) was imprisoned here for 13 years by King Tiridates III of Armenia.
In ancient times, the territory of the monastery was included in the Armenian historical capital of Artashat. Khor Virap was a citadel built on a high hill and served as a royal prison. The name of the Monastery means "deep dungeon" in Armenian. Virap was a deep hole with snakes and scorpions where those sentenced to death were thrown.
According to historian Agatangeghos, the Armenian king Trdat 3rd ordered to imprison Gregory the Illuminator in that deep pit for spreading Christianity in Armenia. Gregory spent 13 years in that dangerous pit and stayed alive thanks to the Christian woman, who secretly brought him bread and water.
While Gregory was imprisoned, Christian nuns with the abbess Gayane and virgin Hripsime came to Armenia, running from Rome. Hripsime was a young and beautiful woman and King Tiridates III fell in love with her. Hripsime refused the king’s offer to marry him and Tiridates ordered to find and kill all the nuns. Hripsime and Gayane were tortured and died a martyr’s death together with the nuns.
Soon after ordering the murder of the nuns the king started to suffer severe mental illness. The king's sister Khosrovadukht had a recurring dream where she was told that her brother would recover only if he submitted to Grigor’s will. No one believed that Grigor would be still alive after so many years.
Grigor was taken to the king whom he heals by preaching Christianity. Trdat was baptized and made Christianity the official religion of the kingdom of Armenia. In this way, Armenia became the first country to establish Christianity as its state religion in 301 A.D. In 302, Gregory was confirmed as Patriarch of Armenia in Caesarea․
In 642, one of the greatest Catholicos in Armenian history Nerses III (the Builder), built a chapel the pit where Gregory the Illuminator was imprisoned. Later, in 1662, on the basis of the old chapel, St. Gevorg Church was built. Narrow stairs at the alter lead to the pit which is now situated under the altar of the church.
The complex of Khor Virap now includes the fortress walls, the courtyard, St. Gevorg Basilica and St. Astvatsatsin Church. The church of St. Astvatsatsin was built in the 17th century on top of a cliff, sloping edges of which jut out from the courtyard paving. The church stands on the site where the temple of Armenian Goddess Anahit stood.
In the 13th century, a school was founded in Khor Virap which became one of the important educational centres in Armenia.