Pre-Christian and Christian Armenia
As man appeared in the world, deities and religions appeared as well. Armenia has not only an ancient culture and rich history, but also a centuries-old history of religion.
Religion in Armenia
Armenia was the first nation to adopt Christianity as a state religion in 301 AD. The Armenian-Gregorian Church (Armenian Apostolic Church) is one of the oldest Christian churches. The church is called Apostolic in honor of the apostles Thaddeus and Bartholomew, who were the first to preach Christianity in Armenia. It is also called Gregorian in honor of Gregory the Illuminator, who convinced the king to convert to Christianity in 301 AD and became the first Catholicos of all Armenians.
Pre-Christian Armenia inherited elements of paganism from Proto-Armenian tribes that inhabited the region. Ancient Urartians, predecessors of Armenians, incorporated deities of Mesopotamian, Iranian, and Greek origin. Throughout years Zoroastrianism had a major role in the Armenian lands. Later, during the Hellenistic period, Armenians favored Greek mythology and Armenian deities identified with the ancient Greek deities.
The Pre-Christian History
While most of the Armenian churches were built on top of pagan temples, one temple managed to survive the christianization of the country. Garni, which is currently the only standing Greco-Roman colonnaded building not only in Armenia, but also throughout the territory of the former Soviet Union. The temple is active and during certain events and festivals many neo-pagan Armenians visit and celebrate there in an attempt to preserve the old traditions. The Garni Temple is the best known symbol of pre-christian Armenia, yet more temples are being discovered throughout the country. The excavation of the pagan temple Ogmik were resumed in 2003, revealing more information about the forgotten Armenian pagan past.
Non-Christian Religious Sites in Armenia
Throughout years, Armenia has been under the control of many Muslim rulers and as a result Yerevan is now also home to an 18th century Shia mosque. The Blue Mosque, located in the capital of Armenia, was constructed during the reign of an Iranian ruler Nadir Shah. Throughout the period of the Soviet rule, the mosque’s religious activities were stopped, yet after the reconstruction in the second half of 1990’s, the mosque is active and functioning.
Armenia, also known as the “Land of Churches,” is said to have over 4,000 monasteries and churches, which can be found all over the country. The Christian faith has shaped the Armenian culture so intimately that it permeates the very landscape of the country, with khachkars (cross stone carvings) strewn across even the most remote valleys, and ancient monasteries and churches nestled on the peaks of mountains surrounded by breathtaking nature.
The unique national style of Armenian church architecture came into being by the late 6th or early 7th century, probably becoming the first national style in Christian architecture, long before the Byzantine, Romanesque and Gothic styles were completely formed. The first Armenian churches were often built on top of pagan temples, imitating some aspects of Armenian pre-Christian architecture.