The St Gregory Armenian Church, aka Saint Gregory the Illuminator Cathedral is located in Yerevan. It is the largest Armenian apostolic church not only in Armenia, but also in the world. Except of being magnificent and fascinating it also has a very interesting history.
The Cathedral, The St Gerogory Armenian Church, or Saint Gregory the Illuminator Cathedral, is named in the honor of St Gregory the Illuminator, who helped Armenian nation to convert Christianity and became the first Catholicos of Armenia.
The cathedral was designed by the architect Stepan Kurkchyan.
Wondering who St Gregory the Illuminator was and why this huge church is named in honor of him?
We have answers to all of your questions. Keep reading to find them out!
Where is St Gregory Armenian Church located?
St Gregory Armenian Church is located in the Kentron District of Yerevan, which is the central part of the city. For those who are in Yerevan and want to visit the cathedral it’s complicated to find your way.Almost all kinds of public transport are available at that part of the city.
The metro station Zoravar Andranik is located right on the opposite side of the street, where the church stands. This is the easiest way to get to the Cathedral.
There are, also, many buses and mini buses that pass this part of the city. The church is surrounded by four streets: Khanjian, Tigran Mets and Hrachya Kochar.
Working hours for the church are the same as for all Armenian churches. And, of course, it has a free entrance. There is also a tradition to light candles once you visit the church. The price for each candle varies from 0,1- 1$, depending on the size of the candle.
Armenians are usually proud of their ancient churches. St Gregory the Illuminator Cathedral, though a new church, is one of the most favourite churches of Armenians. It’s very common for couples to get married here.
Typically, Armenian wedding is a very interesting ceremony and it’s never closed for random visitors during. Many tourists find it interesting to watch the wedding ceremony in Armenian style.
It is also recommended to visit this church on Easter day. At that day the priests start liturgy right at 4pm. After that they distribute everyone a lighted candle to take home, which symbolizes Christ’s reincarnation.
The Legend of St Gregory the Illuminator
According to the legend, Gregory was born in a very wealthy Armenian family. His father killed the Armenian king and later he was killed as well. Gregory’s biographer Agathangelos wrote that, after his father’s death, Gregory was saved and raised in Christian Cappadocia.
Later in his life, when Gregory learned about the murder by his father he decided to go to King Tiritades, the son of the killed king, and offer him his service. Tiritates accepted Gergory, but soon a conflict broke out between him and the king.
Tiritates wanted Gregory to bow the goddess Anahit (pagan Armenian goddess), but, being a true Christian, Gregory refused. Agathangelos wrote that King Tiritates tortured Gregory in every possible way, but he refused to worship Anahit.
Eventually, King Tiritates learned about the origin of Gregory. Finding out that he was the son of his father’s murderer, he decided to throw him into the “bottommost pit” (in Armenian “Khor Virap”).
It was full of dead bodies. So, Tiritates ordered not to provide him food and water and let him starve to death.
The legend goes, that an old widow once saw a dream. Jesus Christ came to her and told her to throw a little piece of bread into the pit every day. And so she did, without telling anyone.
How St Gregory the Illuminator was Freed
Gregory stayed in the pit for 13 years. During that time Kings Tiritates’ kingdom and court fell into a chaos. At some point Tiritates seemed to be powerless to control anything and fell into a deep insanity. Agathangelos named this “demon possession”.
Tiritates’ sister asked several people to approach Gregory, but everyone around was sure that he was already dead. After insisting, they checked the pit and become mesmerized with what they found. Gregory was still alive after so many years of starvation.
According to the legend Gregory agreed to visit the king, who was so insane already. They say he was eating not with humans but with swine. After praying for him, Gregory cured the king, bringing him back to sane mind.
The legend says that after seeing that magic, King Tiritates asked Gregory to baptize him as a Christian and spread Christianity in Armenia. In 301 King Tiritates adopted Christianity as a state religion. And from that time on Armenians have converted to Christianity.
So, Gregory became the first Armenian Catholicos. And he has been called St Gregory the Illuminator ever since. So the St Gregory Armenian Church was named after him.
History and the Construction of St Gregory Armenian Church
As we already said, Armenia is the first country that adopted Christianity as a state religion. Also those who have been to Armenia will confirm that most of Armenia’s architectural pride are ancient churches and cathedrals. All Armenian cities and towns have churches and usually very ancient ones.
Surprisingly, St Gregory Armenian Church is not one of those ancient churches. In fact, its construction began in 1997. St Gregory Cathedral is the largest Armenian apostolic church in the world. It is also one of the largest cathedrals in South Caucasus.
The other largest church is the Holy Trinity Cathedral of Tbilisi, also called Sameba Cathedral.
The initiator of the construction of this church was the Catholicos of Armenia Vazgen I. It took 4 years to build the whole church. Unfortunately, Chatholicos Vazgen I passed away before the end of the construction, so the traditional ground blessing service was conducted by his successor Karekin I.
The opening of the St Gregory Armenian Church was marked on September 23rd, 2001. Actually the date was not randomly selected. That year Armenia celebrated 1700 anniversary of the adoption of Christianity.
2001 was a very special year in religious life of Armenia. Even the traditional Christmas tree, which is usually placed in the center of the Republic Square, was replaced by a giant cross.
The other big occasion of that year was the visit of Pope John Paul II.
The Pope mentioned himself that on the eve of a new millennium he wanted to pay a visit to the first Christian country and also give his blessing to the newly built Cathedral.
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