Armenia tours Sights

Geghard monastery photo-story

The monastery of Geghard (Armenian: Գեղարդ, meaning spear) is a unique architectural construction in the Kotayk province of Armenia, being partially carved out of the adjacent mountain, surrounded by cliffs. It is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

While the main chapel was built in 1215, the monastery complex was founded in the 4th century by Gregory the Illuminator at the site of a sacred spring inside a cave.

The monastery had thus been originally named Ayrivank, meaning “the Monastery of the Cave”. The name commonly used for the monastery today, Geghard, or more fully Geghardavank (Գեղարդավանք), meaning “the Monastery of the Spear“, originates from the spear which had wounded Jesus at the Crucifixion, allegedly brought to Armenia by Apostle Jude, called here Thaddeus, and stored amongst many other relics. Now it is displayed in the Echmiadzin treasury.

The monastery was famous because of the relics that it housed. The most celebrated of these was the spear which had wounded Christ on the Cross, allegedly brought there by the Apostle Thaddeus, from which comes its present name, Geghard-avank (“the Monastery of the Spear”), first recorded in a document of 1250. This made it a popular place of pilgrimage for Armenian Christians over many centuries. Relics of the Apostles Andrew and John were donated in the 12th century, and pious visitors made numerous grants of land, money, manuscripts, etc., over the succeeding centuries. In one of the cave cells there lived, in the 13th century, Mkhitar Ayrivanetsi, the well-known Armenian historian.

No works of applied art have survived in Geghard, except for the legendary spear (geghard). The shaft has a diamond-shaped plate attached to its end; a Greek cross with flared ends is cut through the plate. A special case was made for it in 1687, now kept in the museum of Echmiadzin monastery. The gilded silver case is an ordinary handicraft article of 17th century Armenia.