Haghbat and Sanahin Monasteries (World Heritage)

By | September 17, 2021

These two monasteries from the 10th / 11th centuries Century are among the most important sacred buildings and spiritual centers of Armenia. They are separated by the Debed Gorge. Haghbat was a fortified monastery, its oldest sacred building is the Holy Cross Church. Sanahin is an architectural gem and has an important library.

Haghbat and Sanahin Monasteries: Facts

Official title: Haghbat and Sanahin monasteries
Cultural monument: the monastery complex of Haghbat (spelling also »Haghpat« and »Harpat«) with vestibules typical of Armenian architecture, so-called »Gawits«; the complex includes the Holy Cross Church, the Grigorkirche, the monastery library, the Marienkapelle for hermits (13th century), the bell tower and the refectory
Continent: Asia; Check rctoysadvice to see The Most Beautiful National Parks in Asia.
Country: Armenia
Location: Haghbat, northeast of Sanahin
Appointment: 1996
Meaning: the most outstanding example of the Armenian sacred architecture of the 10th-13th centuries Century

Haghbat and Sanahin Monasteries: History

915 Foundation of the Kajan fortress between the monasteries of Haghbat and Sanahin
953-77 Foundation of the Surb Nshan Monastery (Monastery of the Holy Sign or Holy Cross)
966-91 Construction of the Holy Cross Church (Surb-Nschan Church)
972-1118 Northeast Armenian small kingdom of Tashir
1005-25 Construction of the Grigorkirche
1211 Creation of the well-known Haghbat Gospel
1273 Erecting of the most famous cross stone »Allerlöser« with the depiction of the descent from the cross and the ascension of Christ in the upper crossbar
until 1677 continuous reinforcement of the protective wall of the monastery
December 7, 1988 Earthquake damage

A chronicle in stone

Although Armenia is littered with cultural monuments, few buildings have survived as well as the Haghbat Monastery, which is dedicated to the “holy sign” of God and overlooks the Debed Gorge, in the country plagued by wars and earthquakes. Buildings from four centuries are grouped around the main church with its steep conical dome, which is typical of the country. The tufa walls of the Surb Nschan monastery, covered with inscriptions, form a thousand-year-old chronicle that arose from the need for representation of the Bagratids, who ruled over Armenia’s northern half from the late 9th century to the 11th century. Bagratuni, “the merciful”, who magnificently expanded Ani into a residence and trading metropolis, his wife Chosrowanusch donated the Holy Cross Church, the main church of the Haghbat monastery.

The Armenian Church did not even grant queens the right to be represented. On the almost free plastic portrait of the donor on the east facade of the monastery church, their sons Gurgen and Smbat II God present the model of this church on behalf of Khosrowanush. Tradition ascribes the dome-shaped church building to none other than Trdat, the greatest master builder of Ani.

After the fall of the Bagratids in their central province of Shirak, only a few side lines retained their sphere of influence, such as the Kjurikjan family founded by Gurgen (Kjurike I.) Bagratuni in the small kingdom of Tashir. This empire was under the protection of neighboring Georgia, whose ruler Dawit IV defeated the Turkic Seljuks in 1121 and established a multinational Christian state in the Transcaucasus. Tashir’s close ties to Georgia are particularly evidenced by the elegant two-story chapel, which was built on the highest point of the monastery grounds. Crowned by a bell tower, this building, which is square at the base but octagonal at the top, is the oldest example of a bell tower in Armenia. The up to 9. Bell towers, which were restricted to Europe in the 19th century, reached Armenia by way of a long detour via Byzantium and Georgia. For centuries, instead of ringing bells, Armenian believers were called to worship by rattling or tapping boards.

After the liberation from the Seljuks, north-east Armenia flourished remarkably from the end of the 12th to the middle of the 13th century, as evidenced by a famous library and a scriptorium in Haghbat, the most beautiful product of which, the Gospels, was illustrated by the monk Margare. The vestibule of the Holy Cross Church, known as “Gawit”, which arose from the renovation of an older mausoleum of the Kjurikjan, became the model for large-scale, semi-worldly buildings, which was often imitated. During this renovation, a new arching system was created for the first time: the square room is divided by two pairs of intersecting arches, which have been added in a reduced form in the flat dome of the central light opening. The unusually wide braided band around the west portal of the vestibule is one of the most economical, but extremely effective decorative elements used in exposed places, which offer the eye a pleasant contrast to the fortress-like austerity of the monastery complex. Although many details anticipate the European Romanesque, the masters of Armenia limited themselves to the building decoration largely to symbols of salvation and ornaments, without frightening the believers with demons and monsters. The cult of the cross, which has been venerated as a sun symbol since prehistoric times and also as a tree of life in Christian times, gave rise to the cross stones, an art form that flourished in a unique way in Armenia, to which the monastery of Haghbat made considerable contributions. Although many details anticipate the European Romanesque, the masters of Armenia limited themselves to the building decoration largely to symbols of salvation and ornaments, without frightening the believers with demons and monsters. The cult of the cross, which has been venerated as a sun symbol since prehistoric times and also as a tree of life in Christian times, gave rise to the cross stones, an art form that flourished in a unique way in Armenia, to which the monastery of Haghbat made considerable contributions. Although many details anticipate the European Romanesque, the masters of Armenia limited themselves to the building decoration largely to symbols of salvation and ornaments, without frightening the believers with demons and monsters. The cult of the cross, which has been venerated as a sun symbol since prehistoric times and also as a tree of life in Christian times, gave rise to the cross stones, an art form that flourished in a unique way in Armenia, to which the monastery of Haghbat made considerable contributions.

The tower-reinforced wall that enclosed the particularly vulnerable lower part of the monastery, as well as the fortress built to protect the monastery, did not prevent the decline of spiritual life after constant attacks from North Caucasian lesgins in the 18th century. Only after the independence of Armenia did monks return to Haghbat and have continued the long history of the monastery ever since.

Haghbat and Sanahin Monasteries (World Heritage)