Geghard Monastery: carved from the mountain

2016-11-22T15:58:40+00:004 September 2014|Armenia, Art and architecture, UNESCO World Heritage|

Geghard Monastery

Remember I wrote about the ruins of Zvartnots Cathedral with the spectacular view of Mount Ararat? And a bit later, the monasteries at Haghpat and Sanahin? Armenia’s third world heritage site is Geghard Monastery with its scenic surrounding canyon, the Upper Azat Valley.

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As you may have noticed, all three of Armenia’s sites are churches, cathedrals and monasteries. That’s perhaps not so surprising, as this was the world’s first country to adopt Christianity as state religion back in 301. Yes, you read that right: 301.

In the same century, Saint Gregory the Illuminator founded the monastery complex at the site of a holy spring inside a cave. The complex was plundered and burnt about 600 years later, so the buildings we see today are from the early 13th century, positively contemporary by comparison.

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What sets Geghard monastery apart is its unusual construction, with tombs and churches cut into the mountain. Yet, perhaps its most important claim to fame is the relic once kept here: the sacred spear that pierced Jesus on the cross, brought here by Jude (in Armenia known as Thaddeus), one of the original 12 apostles.

Now, with holy relics one never knows, does one? The spear beneath the dome of St Peters Basilica in the Vatican is also reputed to be the one. Others believe the one in Vienna’s Hofburg Palace is. Another is in the ancient city of Antioch in present-day Turkey.

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Whatever one believes, the spear gave the complex its name – Geghard-avank, Monastery of the Spear. And although the spear is no longer at Geghard (it was moved to Etchmiadzin Cathedral, the Armenian mother church) it has attracted thousands of Armenian pilgrims through the centuries. Even on this day, a late June afternoon with the sun beating down, pilgrims outnumber tourists, their devotion clearly noticeable.

Getting to Geghard Monastery

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Public transport doesn’t go as far as Geghard, but you can take marshrutkas (minibusses in various states of disrepair) from Yerevan to Garni, then walk, hitch or take a taxi the last 9-10 kilometres to Geghard. A much easier option is to join a tour from Yerevan. Many tours combine Geghard with the pagan temple at Garni, also worth a visit.

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The monastery at Geghard is part of the UNESCO World Heritage site Monastery of Geghard and the Upper Azat Valley.
Here are more UNESCO World Heritage sites around the world.

 

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16 Comments

  1. Lisa Goodmurphy 5 September 2014 at 0301 - Reply

    You visit so many interesting places, Sophie, and each time I read one of your posts my travel wish list grows longer and longer!

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 18 September 2014 at 2144 - Reply

      Let’s go to Armenia together, kids n’all 🙂

  2. Betty J. Ogburn 5 September 2014 at 0346 - Reply

    …Oh, I just LOVE these ancient sites–you don’t really have these where I’m from!!…

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 18 September 2014 at 2145 - Reply

      Bit mind-boggling to think of 301 AD, isn’t it…

  3. Mary {The World Is A Book} 6 September 2014 at 0900 - Reply

    I learned quite a lot from this post! I agree with Lisa, you do travel to the most interesting places and love all these UNESCO sites. This monastery is beautiful inside and out. Love that photo with what looked like a holy light beaming in.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 18 September 2014 at 2146 - Reply

      Thanks, Mary 🙂

  4. Mette 7 September 2014 at 1425 - Reply

    Intriguing place. And I’m willing to accept all relics at face-value. After all it must have taken more than one spear to crucify Jesus.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 18 September 2014 at 2147 - Reply

      Yeah, one’s as good as the other.

  5. Mary @ Green Global Travel 9 September 2014 at 0304 - Reply

    Very interesting place to visit! It looks gorgeous there too! Thanks for sharing!

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 18 September 2014 at 2147 - Reply

      Thanks for popping over 🙂

  6. Lily Lau 10 September 2014 at 1328 - Reply

    When I see this I imagine how amazing it must have been for the monks to live here back in the day… UNESCO was right when recognizing the charm of this monastery!

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 18 September 2014 at 2151 - Reply

      I think so, too.

  7. Lance 20 September 2014 at 0457 - Reply

    Armenia is actually high on my list, but it doesn’t look like it will happen any time soon (unfortunately). Thanks for sharing!

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 20 September 2014 at 1742 - Reply

      Hope you’ll find an opportunity. It’s a beautiful, ancient country, and not at all difficult to visit.

  8. Jeff Titelius 20 September 2014 at 2245 - Reply

    Wow, this certainly sounds like a fascinating journey of discovery despite your somewhat humorous comment about having to travel on buses in various states of disrepair. I bet it’s all worth it in the end!

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 19 October 2014 at 1059 - Reply

      Very much worth it, Jeff 🙂

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