2000 Years of Pagan Past
As a country with a history of millennia Armenia has not only a 1700-year Christian history, but also more than 2000 years of pagan past. The Armenians had their own gods, most of which coincided with the Roman and Greek. On the territory of Historical Armenia there are several monuments associated (dedicated to) with the ancient Armenian gods. One of them is a Garni temple located on the territory of present-day Armenia. The temple was built in the 1st century AD by King Trdat I. It was dedicated to the pagan god of the Sun - Mihra. After Trdat III adopted Christianity as the state religion all pagan temples were destroyed. The Garni temple was not destroyed, unlike other pagan temples, because it was the favorite place of rest for the sister of King. In addition, the reason was that it was in the territory of the summer residence of the royal family. On this day is the only pagan temple that has survived (to this day) in the whole of the Caucasus. Currently, Garni is a symbol of Armenian neopaganism and one of the most popular tourist destinations of the country - annually more than 136,000 tourists visit this place.
The Descent of the Only-Begotten
The first and to this day the most important place of the Christian period Armenia is the Etchmiadzin Cathedral. The original church was built in the early fourth century. According to tradition, the cathedral was built between 301 and 303 near the royal palace in then Armenian capital city of Vagharshapat, on the location of a pagan temple. Armenia's patron 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. Hence, the patriarch gave the church the name of Etchmiadzin, which translates to “the Descent of the Only-Begotten”.
Religion has always been very important for Armenians. Throughout the territory of historical Armenia and Armenia today there are many churches built from the 4th century to the present day. Even one of the oldest capitals of Armenia, the city of Ani is called “the city of 1,001 churches”.
The Monastery of the Spear
A significant role in the history of Armenian religion has The Geghard Monastery. While the main chapel was built in 1,215, 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, 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 among many other relics. It is now displayed in the Echmiadzin museum, along with other religious treasures. Geghard is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.