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from the beak of the dove upon the head of the father of the
nation. The bishops gather round, and each with his thumb
spreads the oil over the scalp, making the figure of a cross at
the same time (Fig. 53). Then a mass of wool is applied to the
crown of the head, in the folds of a muslin veil which is adjusted
to fall over the face. The Katholikos rises after a brief interval,
places his feet in his embroidered slippers and with the bishops
re-enters the church. The ceremony has occupied a quarter of
an hour.

Some little time elapses, and the same procession leaves the
building, accompanying the anointed pontiff to his residence. The
choir sing from their great books the old Armenian chants ^ with
their loud lamentations and long shakes. The band of the
Russian regiment play a slow and solemn music, of which the
sweetness puts to shame the nasal choristers. They are mostly
Armenians in this band. These strains bring the rite to a
conclusion, and we all disperse to our various amusements or

The dinner " in hall " upon this festival of the consecration
was a very interesting incident. We were all to dine in the
refectory. When I entered, the long apartment was crammed.
The scholars of the Academy partook of the meal in the parallel
chamber. The bishops, the monks, the delegates composed a
sombre assembly, stretching in rows of long perspective down the
tables. A single exception to this dark apparel was furnished by
a delegate from Karabagh, who was seated next myself He
wore his national dress — a spare black tunic, fastened at the
neck, displaying the front and sleeves of a light blue silken vest.
His face was large and expressive of great resolution, especially
the chin, which, like the cheeks, was shaved. The bronze
complexion heightened the whiteness of the bold moustache.
One was reminded of the best type of peasant proprietors in
Europe ; and, indeed, a view of the faces round one confirmed

1 I was informed that the notes are those of the fifth century ; but there appears to
be no sufficient historical evidence for this beHef. The historians, however, speak of
this or that vartapel as having been a musician {erajisht). The Katholikos George 1\'.
(d. 1882) transcribed the original notes from the Armenian manuscripts, but brought
them into consonance with European methods.

Edgniiatsin and the Anueiiian CJun-ck 255

that favourable impression which one receives from the society of
Armenians in their native country. There is depicted a striking
union of force of character with intelhgence. In the midst of
these reflections the KathoHkos enters the building, and we all
rise from our seats. He sits on his throne beneath the canopy,
and a monk ministers to his needs. On either side stands a
scarlet footman with a blue sash ; the choir are drawn up behind.
After the first course His Holiness rises, wearing his cowl and the
glittering cross, and proposes the toast of the Emperor. It is
a delight to hear him speak. He has all the personal fascination
of Mr. Gladstone. Dinner proceeds as the catalogue of toasts
is gone through, and between each toast European melodies
are sung by the choir, and songs by an Armenian tenor of
repute. The health of the Emperor is received with cries of
Oura ; but the remaining toasts without exception with the
Armenian cheer of Ketzzc I the equivalent of the French Vive!
In proposing the health of M. Pribil His Holiness recites the
various occasions upon which that functionary has come to
Edgmiatsin to attend the consecration or the funeral of a
Katholikos. Turning to his guest with a winning smile, he begs
him to defer his next ceremonial visit until after the lapse of a
moderate interval.

In the evening the whole quadrangle was illuminated with
strings of coloured glasses containing candles. They made a
very pretty show. At intervals huge firebrands threw a lurid
light upon the buildings. The numerous choir of the Academy
was marshalled in the court, including many ladies. The
programme comprised several cantatas and some concerted music,
and the standard was fairly high. But it appears difficult to
eliminate the nasal pronunciation. The music -master was a
great swell with his inspired look and flowing hair. The band
discoursed the waltzes of the immortal Strauss. Before eleven
all sound was hushed save the plash of the fountain, and
darkness unrelieved had settled upon the scene. I made my
way to the rooms of His Holiness and ascertained that he would
receive me in spite of the lateness of the hour.

I found him reclining on a wooden couch in a bare white-
washed apartment ; a single rug was suspended upon the wall
beside the couch. Such is the bed and such the furniture natural
to the object of all this pomp, which I do not doubt is profoundly
distasteful to such a character. He took my hand in his, and

256 Armenia

we sat together for some time, the office of interpreter being, I
think, performed by Dr. Arshak Ter Mikelean. Our talk ranged
over many subjects ; but I should have preferred to sit still, look
in those eyes and hear that voice. I think we both felt that we
were very near each other ; and religion is a subtler thing than
can be defined in creeds and dogmas or embodied in what the
world calls " views."

On the following days the state of tension was gradually
relaxed ; the cloister settled down to ordinary life, and it was
possible to examine the churches at one's ease. These are
actually four in number, although in Mohammedan times the
district was known under the name of Uch Kilisa, or Three
Churches.^ Their origin is bound up with a legend which plays
such a considerable part in the history of the Armenian Church
that, before passing to a description of them, it may not be
inappropriate to instruct or amuse my readers with this curious


Towards the close of the third centur)', while Tiridates was
on the throne of Armenia, the Emperor Diocletian (284-305),^ in
search of a beauteous spouse, sent artists into all parts of his
empire to depict the charms of suitable candidates for the
imperial embrace. Now there happened to be in Rome a
convent of nuns of austere life, of which the superior was called
Gaiane. Under her charge was a virgin of surpassing beauty
and of royal lineage, whose name was Ripsime. The artists
entered her retreat by force, committed her lineaments to their
tablets, and sent the portrait with several others to their master.
The emperor had no sooner gazed upon the image of the high-
born virgin than he fell- violently in love. No pains were spared
to hurry forward the preparations for the marriage, and the
wretched bride was in despair. Her vow of chastity and the

1 So it is known to all the early travellers. Cp. Poser, 1621 ; Evliya, 1647, "the
Three Churches, a great convent built by the Greek emperors"; Rhodes, 164S-49 ;
Tavernier, 1655 ; Chardin, 1673 ; Jesuit INIissionaries, seventeenth century. Letter of Pcre
Monier ; Schillinger, c. 1699; Tournefort, 1701, who notices the innppropriateness of
the name.

- It is given at length by Agathangelus, and may be found in that portion of the
treatise to which I shall hereafter allude as "the Acts" (see note on p. 291, infra).
There can be little doubt that the legend of the Ripsimians took the place of an old
heathen legend, associated with the site at Vagharshapat. There seems to have been a
local tradition that the cathedral and the chapels of Ripsime and Gaiane stand upon
three rocks, whence in pagan times voices would be heard coming from underlying
cavities and returning answers to questions addressed to them.

^ This is probably an anachronism.

Edgniiatsiu and the Arnicnian Church 257

hatred she felt for the persecutor of her sect encouraged her to
adopt the counsels of despair. She took to flight, attended by
Gaiane and a numerous company of the nuns ; and after many
wanderings the band arrived upon the banks of the distant
Araxes, in the outskirts of the Armenian capital of Vagharshapat.
There they discovered a secluded retreat in a place which served
as a store for vats, the city possessing extensive vineyards. One
of their number was versed in the art of the manufacture of glass
objects ; she made glass pearls, and their price defrayed the cost
of their daily sustenance.

Meanwhile the emperor had despatched messengers in every
direction, and a Roman ambassador arrived at the court of the
Armenian king. He was the bearer of a letter to that monarch
from his master, who related how the Empire was suffering from
the misdeeds of the Christians, and in particular how a beautiful
virgin whom he himself had desired to marry had been abstracted
by her infatuated co-sectaries and taken into the territory of his
Armenian ally. The emperor begged his beloved colleague to
track the party out, and, with the exception of the wondrous
virgin, to put them all to death. As for the lovely fugitive, it
would only be necessary to send her back ; but the missive added,
with an amiability truly worthy of an emperor, that the king
might keep her if overcome by her charms.

As might be expected, no time was lost on the part of
Tiridates to institute and elaborate the search. The band was
found ; the beauty of Ripsime needed no identification ; and the
fame of it attracted a multitude of all ranks — princes and nobles,
shoulder to shoulder with the common people, closing round her
under the sting of licentious desire. The nuns raised their hands
to heaven and drew their veils about their faces ; and perhaps
this display of modesty averted their ruin. Early on the
following morning there arrived from the palace magnificent
litters and costly robes, the design of the king being to take to
wife the Christian maiden and make her queen of the Armenians.
But at this juncture a peal of thunder carried terror into all hearts,
and a voice was heard descending from the sky. It was the
voice of the Saviour, adjuring the nuns to take courage and
remain firm for the glorification of His name among the peoples
of the north. " Thou Ripsime," it proceeded, " hast been cast out
{e^epp[(f)6r]<i) with Gaiane and thy companions from the realm of
death into that of eternal life." Meanwhile the thunder had

258 Armenia

caused a panic among the assembled people, and the king's
officers hastened to the royal presence, bringing a written report
of all they had heard. But the monarch hardened his heart, and,
since she refused the pomp he offered, gave orders that the
maiden should be taken by force and brought to the royal

These directions were executed, but not without difficulty ;
the pious virgin was of stalwart frame, and the soldiers were
obliged to drag her along the ground, or carry her struggling in
their arms. When they had placed her in the king's chamber,
and it was announced that the king had entered, the people
outside the palace feasted and danced and sang. But their
rejoicings were premature ; for the intrepid Roman maiden was
more than a match even for the powers of so redoubtable an
antagonist. Tiridates was widely famed for physical strength
and deeds of prowess ; yet, although he persisted in his suit for
not less than seven hours, he was at last compelled through sheer
exhaustion to give in. The offices of Gaiane were invoked ; she
consented to speak, but her counsels were addressed to confirming
the courage of her companion. Her Latin speech was understood
by some among those present ; they took stones and tore her
face and broke her teeth. After a brief repose the king returned,
and again endeavoured to overcome the girl's obstinacy ; but
after a long struggle the inspired amazon was a second time
victorious ; she threw the king (epptyfrev), destroyed his diadem,
and dismissed him from the chamber, fainting and gathering
around him his tattered robes.

A tender respect for the honour of women is a virtue of
Christian origin, which the romance of Western chivalry con-
verted into a cult of the fair sex. But the king of Armenia
was an Oriental, a heathen and a barbarian ; nor had he been
instructed in the code which precludes the sentiment of humilia-
tion in the vanquished where the victor is possessed of a female
form. His passion as a lover was overcome by his fury as a
thwarted despot ; the virgin had fled from the palace, but his
savage emissaries were soon on lier track. The unfortunate
maiden directed her steps to the retreat where the vats were
stored, and gave the alarm to her companions. All those present,
excepting one who was stricken with illness, accompanied her
flight. But when they had reached some rising ground near the
road which led to Arta.xata, they were overtaken, bound with

Edgmiatsin and the Armenian Chnrch 259

cords and put to death with great cruelty. With Ripsime there
perished thirty-two of her attendants, while the poor nun who had
been left behind presently met the same fate. The martyrdom
of Gaiane and of two companions took place on the following
day and was attended with tortures which I should shudder to
commit to paper.

Not many days after this tragedy its author was visited by
the vengeance of heaven ; a demon entered his body, and, like his
prototype of Babylon, the king of Armenia was turned into an
animal eating grass. In the form of a wild boar he resisted all
attempts to confine him ; and similar punishments overtook the
royal family and attendants. At length the sister of the king, by
name Khosrovidukht, beheld in the watches of night a vision. A
man with a radiant face appeared and addressed her, to the effect
that the only remedy was to send to the town of Artaxata and
summon thence a prisoner named Gregory. When she related
the vision people shook their heads, and attributed it to the
incipient madness of the princess. For Gregory, who was once
an honoured servant of King Tiridates, had been cast by the tyrant
into a deep pit, on account of his profession of Christianity, not
less than fifteen years ago. Would even his bones be forthcoming
from such a place ? But when several times the vision had been
repeated, and the princess renewed her insistence, a great noble
was despatched to the place where the pit was situated, near the
town of Artaxata. A rope was let down into the cavern ; and, to
the astonishment of all, there emerged a human form, blackened
to the colour of coal. It was none other than St. Gregory.

The saint was met by the king and nobles, foaming and
devouring their flesh, as he approached the city along the road
from Artaxata. Sinking on his knees, he obtained from heaven
the restoration of their reason, although not of their human forms.
His next care was the burial of the martyrs ; he found their
bodies, lying where they fell, and still untouched by corruption
after the lapse of nine days. Xo dog or beast or bird had
approached the remains. St. Gregory took them with him to the
place where the vats were stored ; and for sixty-six days he so-
journed in that place, instructing the king and nobles. xAfter the
lapse of that period he related to them a vision which he had
beheld during the middle watches of the night. The royal party
had come at sunrise to prostrate themselves before the holy man.

Durine his vieil, while his mind was revolving the recent acts

26o Armenia

of Divine grace, a violent peal of thunder, followed by a terrible
rumbling sound, had fallen upon his startled sense. The
firmament opened as a tent opens, and from the heaven descended
the form of a man, radiant with celestial light. The name of
Gregory was pronounced ; the saint looked upon the face of the
man, and fell trembling to the grpund. Enjoined to raise his
eyes, he beheld the waters above the firmament cloven and
parcelled apart like hills and valleys, extending beyond the range
of sight. Streams of light poured down from on high upon the
earth, and, with the light, innumerable cohorts of shining human
figures with wings of living flame. At their head was One of
terrible face whom all followed as the supreme ruler of the host ;
He bore in his hand a golden mallet, and, alighting on the ground
in the centre of the cit}', struck with His mallet the crust of the
broad earth. The report of the blow penetrated into the abysses
below the earth ; far and near all inequalities of the surface were
smoothed out, and the land became a uniform plain.

And the saint perceived in the middle of the city, near the
palace of the king, a circular pedestal made of gold and of the
size of a large plateau, upon which was reared an immensely
lofty column of fire with a cloud for capital, surmounted by a
flaming cross. As he gazed he became aware of three other
pedestals. One rose from the spot where the holy Gaiane suffered
martyrdom ; a second from the site of the massacre of Ripsime
and her companions ; and the third from the position occupied by
the magazine of vats. These pedestals were of the colour of
blood ; the columns w^ere of cloud, and the capitals of fire. The
crosses resembled the cross of the Saviour, and might be likened
to pure light. The three columns were equal in height one with
another, but a little lower than that which rose near the royal
palace. Upon the summits of all four were suspended arcs of
wondrous appearance ; and above the intersection of the arcs was
displayed an edifice with a dome, the substance being cloud. On
the arcs stood the thirty-seven martyrs, figures of ineffable beauty
attired in white robes ; while the crown of the figure above the
edifice was a throne of Divine fashioning surmounted by the cross
of Christ. The light of the throne mingled with the light of the
cross and descended to the bases of the columns.

When Gregory had related this vision he bade all present gird
up their loins and lose no time in erecting chapels to the martyred
virgins, where their remains might be deposited. Thus the saints

Edzmiatsin and the Armenian CJnirch 261

might intercede for the afflicted king and people and assist them
to become healed. Forthwith the multitude set to work, collected
stones and bricks and cedar-wood ; and, under the guidance of the
saint, constructed three chapels after a prescribed design. One
was placed towards the north and on the east of the city, on the
spot where Ripsime and her companions met their death. The
site of the second was further south, where the Superior Gaiane was
massacred ; while that of the third was close to the magazine of
vats. These they built and adorned with lamps of gold and silver,
with candelabra of which the flames were never quenched. Coffins
were made for the remains of the martyrs ; but no man was
suffered to touch these relics, for none had been baptized. The
saint himself and in solitude consigned the bodies to their
receptacles. And when this was done he fell on his knees and
prayed for the healing of the king, that haply the king might
share in the work. The prayer was granted, and the horn fell
from the royal hands and feet. To the monarch was assigned
the task of digging tombs in the chapels to receive the coffins of
the martyrs ; and his consort, the queen Ashkhen, together with
his sister Khosrovidukht, were associated with him in the work.
The return of his vigour was signalised on the part of the king by
a labour worthy of the patriarch Hayk. He made a journey to
the summit of xA-rarat, which the compiler rightly observes would
occupy seven days.^ When he had completed this feat, he was
seen bearing upon his shoulders eight blocks of stone of gigantic
size which he had taken from the crest of the mountain. These
he placed before the threshold of the chapel of the martyred
Ripsime in expiation of the unholy battle which he had waged.'^
In this manner all was accomplished according to the vision of
St. Gregory ; while, as for the locality where had stood the
column of fire on the golden pedestal, it was surrounded by the
saint with a high wall and heavy gates ; the sign of the cross was
erected within it, that the pilgrims might there worship the all-
powerful God. Upon his return from Cssarea, and after the
baptism of king and people, St. Gregory completed his task by
building the cathedral upon this site.

1 I interpret him in the sense of there and back.

- It appears to have been the custom among the Armenians down to comparatively
recent times for pious people to place large blocks of stone in front of the entrance to a
church by way of offering. Dubois de Montpereux saw a numVjer of such stones, 6
or 7 feet high, covered with crosses and arabesques, in front of the portal of the cathedral
at Edgmiatsin. I do not know what has become of them.

262 Armenia

Such is the legend which, with variations, has supplied the
patent of the famous monastery, and invested the pilgrimage to
the church of Christ descended and to the chapels of the martyrs
with the character at once of a religious and of a patriotic act.
The first of these edifices stands in the centre of the great
quadrangle of the cloister, and, as we have seen, is believed to
have been originally raised by St. Gregory the Illuminator, to
whom the Armenians attribute their conversion to Christianit)'.
The spot where the Saviour alighted and struck the broad earth
with the mallet is situated about the middle of the building ; and
in the old days was indicated by a slab of hewn stone, 3 feet
square and 5 feet in thickness/ This stone was said to have
been substituted for the original marble slab which was reputed to
have been due to St. Gregory himself and to have been carried off
by Shah Abbas." In the first quarter of the eighteenth century,
during the 'pontificate of Astvatsadur, an elaborate altar was
placed upon this hallowed site, and still stands there beneath
the dome. It is surmounted by a canopy supported by four
pillars of Tabriz marble, and is well seen in my illustration of
the interior (Fig. 55). It appears to have replaced one of
simpler design erected by the Katholikos Eleazar.

I cannot invite my reader to admire the architecture of this cathedral,
although the interior, with its spacious body, central dome and four apses,
one at each point of the compass, is sufficiently remarkable. Much the
same design is seen in the church of St. Ripsime ; but in that building
it underlies important developments which probably argue a later date.
The original form of tlie exterior is rather difficult to unravel owing to
the excrescences, of which I may safely say that none are improvements,
that have been added at various times. But let me briefly undertake the
work of demolition, addressing myself to the illustration, which was taken
from the south-west (Fig. 49).

The portal on the left of the jjicture is a work of the seventeenth
century ; it was commenced by the Katholikos Philip and completed by
his successor Jacob in 1658. It is probably due to the mania for portals
prevalent in Armenia at that period and not to a feature of the earlier
plan. Just east of and adjoining the balcony of this structure is seen a
window with a richly carved column in the centre, surmounted by a cross
and supporting two ornamental arches. This window and the upper
portion of the building to which it belongs are in subservience to the

1 Chaidin (ed. Langles, Paris, i8ii, 8vo, vol. ii. p. 175). See also Tavernier
(book i. ch. iii.). The fesuit missionaries, however, later on in the seventeenth century,
.speak of a structure resembling a mausoleum and having four stone columns and an
altar in the centre. There can be little doubt that this is an allusion to the erection
of Eleazar. - Chardin, ibid.

Edgmiatsin and tJie Armenian Church 26


portal, with which they are in architectural harmony, and which they link
with the main edifice. The lower part, including the frieze or quasi-
classical moulding, which runs right round the church, is in a different
style and of a different form of masonry, being indeed an integral member
of the body of the church. You have only to remove the window and
pointed roof, build up the wall above the cornice and cover it with a flat
roof, and you obtain precisely the same projection which the picture shows
on the south side and which is necessitated by the south apse.

We have now obtained the figure of a body with four projecting
members, each of which represents an apse. The roof would appear to
have been always built at a very low angle ; it is, as usual, of stone. But
we have yet to disencumber the apse on the east, which is completely
hidden by the stupid building which contains the treasury and room of
relics — -an annexe which from outside lengthens and perverts the original

Online LibraryH. F. B. (Harry Finnis Blosse) LynchArmenia, travels and studies (Volume 1) → online text (page 27 of 49)