to the monastery is by turning left from the main traffic circle
inside the town. The
Mother Temple (Mayr Tachar)
was begun in the 4th century, built on the ruins of a
pagan cult site, but it has been heavily restored through the
centuries, most thoroughly in the 17th c.
Displacing a rival mother church at Ashtishat in Western
Armenia, Ejmiatsin has been seat of the Katholikos in the 4th
and 5th centuries and again since 1441.
As such, and as the seat of the miraculous relics of the
Armenian church-the Lance, the hand of St. Gregory the
Illuminator, the hand of the Apostle Thaddeus, a finger of St.
Jude, a drop of St. Hripsime's blood, etc.-it came to control
vast estates and received rich gifts from around the Armenian
world. The Treasury,
which houses some of this largesse,
and steps down to sparse remains of the purported Persian fire temple, are reached through the church, right of the altar. English-speaking deacons are available as guides, but
contributions are expected. Opposite the entrance to the church and through the is the
Palace of the Katholikos, with a smaller treasury not open to the
public. There is a
newly rebuilt theological school (Chemaran)
on the grounds. One
famous graduate was Aghasi Khanjian, Armenia's First Secretary
eminent historian Edward Gibbon, writing Decline and Fall of
the Roman Empire from Lausanne at the end of the 18th century,
had heard more positive reports:
zeal of the Armenians is fervent and intrepid; they have often
preferred the crown of martyrdom to the white turban of Mohammed;
they devoutly hate the error and idolatry of the Greeks; and their
transient union with the Latins is not less devoid of truth than
the thousand bishops whom their patriarch offered at the feet of
the Roman pontiff. (Gibbon's footnote:
See a remarkable fact of
the twelfth century in the History of Nicetas Choniates (p. 258). Yet three
hundred years before, Photius (Epistol. ii. p.
49, edit. Montacut.) had
gloried in the conversion of the Armenians.) The catholic,
or patriarch, of the Armenians resides in the monastery of
Ekmiasin, three leagues from Erivan.
Forty seven archbishops, each of whom may claim the
obedience of four or five suffragans, are consecrated by his hand;
but the far greater part are only titular prelates, who dignify
with their presence and service the simplicity of his court. As soon as they have performed the liturgy, they cultivate
the garden; and our bishops will hear with surprise that the
austerity of their life increases in just proportion to the
elevation of their rank."
French/Russian scholar Marie-Felicite Berge shivered for the
better part of 40 days in Ejmiatsin in January 1848, a prisoner of
that winter's extreme cold. He
provided a detailed description of the manuscript collection,
drawing from the first catalogue prepared at the
insistence of then-Archbishop Nerses ofAshtarak.
Berge reported that outside the Cathedral, S of the bell
tower was an inscription in Greek, Persian and English marking the
cenotaph of Lt. Col. Sir John MacDonald, who expired in Tabriz in
1830 as envoy of British India to the Shah of Persia.
MacDonald had earned a certain amount
of gratitude for his