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The monastery of Geghard and the Upper Azat Valley contains a number of churches and tombs, most of them cut into the living rock, which illustrate Armenian medieval architecture at its highest point. The complex of medieval buildings is set into a landscape of great natural beauty, at the entrance to the Azat Valley. High cliffs from the northern side surround the complex while the defensive wall encircles the rest.

The exact date for the founding of the monastery is unknown but pre-Christians worshiped at springs at the site, particularly one inside a cave that is now enclosed by the main gavit.

It is believed a monastery was established at the site in the beginning of the 4th century by the first Catholicos St. Gregory the Illuminator (S. Grigor Lusavorich) and became known as “Aiyrivank” or “Monastery of Caves”. It was developed by Gregory and a later Catholicos, St. Sahak Partev, who was head of the Church at the time the Armenian Alphabet was invented. The ascetic lifestyle of monks is illustrated by the numerous small caves on the cliffs inside and surrounding the site, exposed to the elements and many reached only by ladder or rope. Gregory is believed to have lived in one of these cells.

Historians write that the old monastery had, along with the ascetic monk quarters several churches, shrines, well-built residential quarters and extensive support buildings. It was an important Manuscriptorium, seminary, academy of music and pilgrimage site.


During the Bagratuni era (920s), when Armenia was invaded by the Arab army, the Arab vice-regent in Armenia Nasr plundered the site. It was rebuilt (though countless manuscripts were lost) and the monastery was encircled with fortifications, many of which still survive.

Though inscriptions are found from the 1160s, the current monastery is considered a product of the 13th century, when the Orbelian king and his generals the Zakarian brothers retook large portions of the Armenian kingdom from the Seljuks, including Geghard monastery.

At its height in the 13th century, Geghard monastery benefited from patronage by princely families and was a pilgrimage site, not least for its reliquaries of the Holy Lance, the spear used by a Roman soldier to pierce the crucified Christ. This reliquary gave the monastery its current name Geghardavank (Monastery of the Spear). Another relic was a wooden fragment said to have been a piece of Noah's Ark.

The monastery was sacked by Mongols and later Timurids, destroyed in 1127, 1679 and 1840 earthquakes, rebuilt in succeeding centuries and serving as a summer residence for succeeding Catholicos.

The name commonly used for the monastery today, Geghard, or more fully Geghardavank, 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.








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