Khor Virap Monastery

Churches and Monasteries

The famous pilgrimage site with a fascinating history and an iconic location at the foot of Mt. Ararat. This is where Christianity in Armenia all started...

42 km

Khor Virap

The walled monastery complex, which sits on a rocky outcrop above the river plan, offers magnificent views of Mount Ararat as well as a fine example of early Armenian ecclesiastic architecture, the ruins of nearby Ancient Artashat and the Khor Virap State Nature Reserve. The monastery site, which has been extensively restored, is well presented. The hill of Khor Virap and the territory adjoining it were the site of the important early Armenian capital city of ancient Artashat, built by King Artashes I, founder of the Artashesid dynasty around 180 BC, can be found.

Khor Virap plays an integral role in the history of Armenia due to the legend of St. Gregory the Illuminator, the first Armenian Catholicos, who was imprisoned there for 13 years. During the reign of King Tiridates III the Great, Gregory the Illuminator was trying to spread Christianity in Armenia, which was not approved by the pagan ruler. Gregory refused to worship pagan Gods, thus, the king ordered his guards to tie the Christian’s hands and throw him into a deep well. King Tiridates left Gregory to die in the dark dungeon where he was imprisoned. He spent 13 years in that dark, damp and small place, but survived due to the kindness of a woman’s tender heart. Meanwhile, Tiridates enthusiastically followed the lead of his friend, the Emperor Diocletian, in savagely persecuting Christians.

The Legend

According to a legend, a group of virgin nuns led by Gayane, came to Armenia as they fled the Roman persecution of their Christian faith. Tiridates heard about the group and the legendary beauty of one of its members, Hripsime. He brought them to the palace and demanded to marry the beautiful virgin, but she refused. The king had the whole group tortured and killed. God ultimately punished Tiridates’ misdeeds by depriving him of his sanity, and he adopted the behaviour of a wild boar, aimlessly wandering around in the forest. Local legends speak of an illness that no doctor could cure, as the king stepped closer and closer to the jaws of death. In her sleep, Tiridates’ sister, Khosrovidukht, had a dream where God appeared to tell her how bringing Gregory out of his prison would save the king.

This vision repeated five times but no one believed that Gregory would be alive after so many years had passed. Ultimately, Khosrovidukht dared to tell her brother about her vision. The king immediately ordered Gregory’s release from his dungeon, should he still be alive. After Gregory was brought before Tiridates III, the king was miraculously cured of his illness. Thus, Gregory was rewarded with the official conversion of Armenia to Christianity, making it the first country to officially adopt the religion in 301 AD. Gregory was sent to Caesaria to be consecrated a bishop, and he and descendants became the hereditary Catholicoses of Armenia. Sometime after Tiridates III’s baptism, Gregory baptized the whole royal family, including royal consort Ashkhen, his entire court, and his army on the Euphrates River.

Later in 642, Catholicos Nerses built a chapel on the sacred land over the dungeon, from which the most wonderful view of the Mount Ararat can be admired. The monastery of Khor Virap is an attractive spot for a very large number of tourists throughout the whole world.

Saint Astvatsatsin or the Holy Mother Church is the main building of the Khor Virap Armenian Apostolic Church Monastery. It is of domed hall design and was built in the 17th century. The church has greatly suffered from various earthquakes, with the most disastrous being the earthquake of 1679. The church was repaired in 1703, and later in 1970 to 1980. Unlike the medieval Armenian churches that came with cruciform central domed layouts, Saint Astvatsatsin Church represents a domed hall with two annexes on both sides of the apse. Adjacent to the church, on the western side, there is a belfry built in the 19th century. Visitors should note that Saint Astvatsatsin is an operating church and therefore the rules set by the Armenian Apostolic church should be followed, especially when attending service; women should wear head scarves, and men should take off their hats or caps.