Etchmiadzin Cathedral is an integral part of the Armenian identity and spiritual life. Etchmiadzin Cathedral was listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2000. The church of Holy Etchmiadzin is included in the complex of the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin.
Etchmiadzin Cathedral is one of the most significant and breathtaking pieces of Armenian architecture.
If you want to know Armenians better, first you should know about their religion and its center in Armenia, Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin which is also listed among the World Heritage Sites of UNESCO.
Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin church is the administrative headquarters of the Armenian worldwide Apostolic Church and, also, the Pontifical Residence of the Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians (currently, Garegin II).
Etchmiadzin Cathedral Basic Information
It’s a unique and special place in Armenia: the church is a historical monument and one of the most visited tourism destinations in Armenia.
Etchmiadzin Cathedral Location
Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin church is located in the city of Etchmiadzin or Vagharshapat (Armavir Marz of the Republic of Armenia), 10 km west from Yerevan. Holy Etchmiadzin is the fourth largest city in Armenia.
In Armenia, the city is also known as Vagharshapat but since 1945 it has officially been named and up to now remains Etchmiadzin.
How to Get to the Holy Etchmiadzin City of Armenia
Getting to Etchmiadzin isn’t difficult. There are regularly operating mini buses or marshrutkas in Avtokayan (Kilikia), Yerevan Central bus station. The cost is 250 AMD, (about 1 USD) and it will take you less than 3o minutes to get to the Holy Etchmiadzin.
Working Hours of Holy Etchmiadzin Cathedral
Working Hours of Other Sights within the Holy Church Complex
Etchmiadzin Cathedral Architecture
Etchmiadzin Cathedral Architecture
Etchmiadzin Cathedral has always been in the core of the Armenian and foreign architects’ and scientists’ research! This historical, spiritual and architectural place is not only a church, but also a unique museum for researchers.
Height of Etchmiadzin Cathedral is over 27 meters. Length of this amazing church is 33 meters and its width reaches 30 meters.
According to Armenian historians, the first Armenian churches were founded in the ancient pagan temple places. Etchmiadzin Cathedral, likewise other Christian churches, was established in the location of a pagan temple.
As historians state, that temple was dedicated to the pagan goddess Artemis. According to the vision of Illuminator, it was struck and destroyed by the golden hammer of the Descended Only Begotten.
Although its interior has changed during various historical periods, the core of the cathedral building is still the 5th century foundation. The stone cupola, turrets, belfry and rear extension were added later. Also, the cathedral walls are covered with numerous ornaments outside․
The Church Exterior Architecture
Although Etchmiadzin Cathedral has seen destructions and renovations throughout the centuries, the current form of the Holy Church is the same as its original illuminated drawing.
Presently, Holy Etchmiadzin has a cruciform plan, including the central cupola and 4 free-standing piers and 4 projecting apses. The central piers make the interior area nine equally-divided square compartments.
The Cathedral’s architecture has a very impressive and symbolic look. The building is considered to be a mix heritage of Armenian and European architecture. From the outside, the church doesn’t look as a so called “luxurious” church.
The building has simply solid view because it was built by dark stone. Etchmiadzin Cathedral’s nowadays look reproduces the specific features of the Armenian architecture of different periods, starting from ancient times until the 21st century.
Holy Etchmiadzin Interior Architecture
Entering to the Cathedral, visitors will enjoy the magnificent view: the inner part of the church is decorated with frescoes of biblical scenes and Armenian Church saints, illustrated by various Armenian painters (for example, Hovnatanyan family).
One of the amazing and architectural heritages of the Cathedral is the well-known wooden door. This famous door, carved with Armenian patterns, was created in Tiflis (presently, Tbilisi) in 1889.
In the Mother See of the Holy Etchmiadzin, paintings from various centuries are kept. According to the Catholicos Mkrtich Khrimyan’s order, the paintings were moved out from the cathedral in 1891. Nowadays, they are kept in various museums around Armenia.
Historical background of the Holy Etchmiadzin
Etchmiadzin Cathedral Foundation
The church was built in 301-303, by the Armenian king Tiridates III (Ardaxiad or Artashesyan dynasty of Armenia). The Cathedral was founded near the Artashesyans’ royal palace, in the capital city of Vagharshapat. Armenia, under the reign of Tiridates, became the first country, adopting Christianity as a state religion in 301.
According to the 5th century’s Armenian historians, Saint Gregory the Illuminator had a vision of Jesus Christ, descending from heaven and striking the earth with a golden hammer to show where the cathedral should be built.
Gregory the Illuminator named the church ”Etchmiadzin” which means “the Descent of the Only-Begotten”. After that, Armenian people continued to call the Etchmiadzin Cathedral “Cathedral of Vagarshapat” or “Katoghike”. Since the 15th century the name ”Etchmiadzin” has been used more frequently.
Through Centuries Up to Our Days
In the 5th century Holy Etchmiadzin Cathedral was destroyed by Sasanian King Yazdegerd II and was rebuilt from the fundamentals by governor (marzban) of Persian part of Armenia, Vahan Mamikonian.
For centuries, the church was subjected to destruction and was also restored many times. The cathedral was almost completely destroyed by Persian King Shapur II and was renovated by Catholicoi Nerses the Great and Sahak Parthev in the 4th century.
The last known renovations until the 15th century were made by Catholicos Komitas in 618 and Catholicos Nerses III. In 982, the Holy Etchmadzin cross was removed by the Arab emir, after which, the church was destroyed again by Mongol and Mamluk invasions.
In the 15th century, when Armenian political and religious elite decided to reestablish a catholicosate in Etchmiadzin, the cathedral was restored by Catholicos Kirakos. During the 16th and the 17th centuries, the Chathedral was destroyed and plundered by Persian Shah Abbas.
There are also such historical events as Ottoman-Safavid War (1635–36), Russo-Persian War (1804–13), Russo-Persian War (1826–28), Russian government’s decision to confiscate the properties of the Armenian Church (1903), Armenian Genocide and Soviet suppression that enormously affected the Cathedral building, until the 20th century.
Today, Etchmiadzin Cathedral is the mother church of the Armenian Apostolic Church. According to scholars, it was the first cathedral built in ancient Armenia. Cathedral is considered the oldest one in the world.
Having passed through all of these disastrous events, Etchmiadzin Cathedral’s existence can surely be considered a miracle nowadays !
For more than 17 centuries, the Holy Etchmiadzin has been and still is the center of Armenian religion, culture, sciences, theology and spirituality. It’s a Holy place for all the Armenians around the world.
Etchmiadzin Cathedral is one of the Armenians’ identity symbols. As it is a religious center for the Armenians worldwide, the cathedral complex has been called “Armenian Vatican” or “Armenian Mecca”.
Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin was not only a religious, but also a political center for the Armenian nation. Since Armenia had already lost its independence, Etchmiadzin begun to play the capital city’s role and here, crucial political issues were discussed.
Presently, the Holy Etchmiadzin Cathedral is always in the focus of believers, travelers, scientists and, of course, many prominent people from all over the world, such as major religious figures (Pope Francis visit to Armenia in June, 2016), presidents of various countries and many others!
Other Structures, Included in the Church Complex
Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin church complex comprises various infrastructures, including museums, residences, churches and educational institutions. See some of them below.
Holy Etchmiadzin Churches & the Baptistery Chapel
Holy Etchmiadzin Residences
Holy Etchmiadzin Educational Institutions
Museums & Libraries of Etchmiadzin Cathedral Complex
Etchmiadzin Church Administrative Buildings
Gates to the Holy Etchmiadzin
Other Related Posts of Etchmiadzin Cathedral: The Armenian Church, the Holy Etchmiadzin
- 10 Armenian churches (Apostolic / Orthodox) you must visit!
- Zvartnots Cathedral: a Fallen Beautiful temple of Armenia
- Khachkar – One of Armenian Symbols, Unique Armenian Cross Stone
- Sevanavank Monastery, Armenia: A site you should never miss visiting!
- St Gregory Armenian Church / Saint Gregory The Illuminator Cathedral in Yerevan
- Gandzasar Monastery in Nagorno-Karabakh | a reflection of Armenia’s Christianity
We would like to emphasize the importance of Etchmiadzin Cathedral, since just like the Armenian nation, the Cathedral as well, passed through many difficulties and hazards and it also survived, remained strong and spiritual up to now!