Armenia is today a small country located South of the Caucasus Mountains, where Europe, Asia, and Asia Minor meet. There is ongoing debate whether Armenia is a European or an Asian country. Its sacred mountain, though partly a Turkish territory, is Mount Ararat, the National symbol of Armenia, a mountain that is mentioned in all three Abrahamic religions as the place where Noah’s Ark landed, after journeying for many days after the Biblical flood catastrophe.
Nowadays Armenians have a strong diaspora, which exceeds in number the population living in the Armenian Republic, just like the Jewish diaspora is more numerous than its homeland people. This happened to both people partly because of their turbulent history. Alike Jews, Armenians have a long historical tradition rooted in prehistoric times and they preserved their cultural and linguistic identity in times of exile or occupation.
Once a province of the Roman Empire, Armenia was the first country to adopt Christianity as a state religion, in 301 AD. This Armenian Apostolic Church still exists, separated from both the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church. Later on, Armenian culture was influenced by Christianity (by the Byzantine Empire, by the Crusade States in the High Middle Ages) and by Ottoman Turks.
Different historical factors allowed the creation of a specific Armenian church architectural style, the same that happened with the Venetian specific Gothic style, because of the local history of trade and other exchanges with different cultures. A clear distinctive Armenian feature is the use of figurative relief stone carvings as an intrinsic part of Church architecture. These delicate and rich in detail carvings are characteristic for memorial or funerary stelae or crosses typically carved in stone and are called Khachkars. There are some similarities with Celtic art objects, a fact that can launch the hypothesis of the cultural hybridization possible because of the Early Middle Ages migrations and major trade routes between East and West, like the Silk Road. The typical ringed high Celtic crosses appear in the 9th century, while the first Khachkars are known to be dated back to the 9th century too. The Khachkars art reached a peak in the 12th and 13th centuries. It is very likely that these intricate motifs carved for very rich ornate memorials bear the influence of Muslim elaborate carvings in palaces or mosques. Below, you can see the famous Kachkar at Goshavank, an Armenian monastery built in the 12th-13th centuries.
By Inna – originally posted to Flickr as 2009.03.08–10.23.43, CC BY 2.0,
The art of Khachkars is still blooming. Many carved memorials commemorate today the Armenian genocide that happened in 1915. The same purpose is assessed to recent crosses like this one, found in front of the Armenian Church in Bucharest, located in the Armenian Quarter, near the place where I live (my picture):
Another interesting feature is the carving of the symbol of the tree of life, another symbol also found in Celtic artistic representations, known as the Celtic tree of life – a symbol that was adopted from the Norse people, where it was called Yggdrasil. But this archetype of the sacred tree is widely spread in religious and mythological thought. The tree of life is a very common motif in the art of ancient Near East and the Mediterranean world. Below, one of its depictions in carving, at the Armenian church in Bucharest, built in 1911-1915 (my picture):
I have to add that I found different versions for the widespread symbol of the tree of life, including carpets from the Near/Middle East regions or as far as India that are claimed to represent the tree of life. Maybe more, but my study was not in depth. There is symmetry and sometimes confronting animals or other creatures like in my example above.
Armenian churches have pointed domes, tall and narrow windows, frescoes and carvings, sculptural decorations of the exterior walls. The Armenian Etchmiadzin Cathedral, known as the Holy Mother of God Church is said to be the oldest cathedral in the world, the oldest state-built church in the world. It was founded in the early 4th century and it is an emblem of the Armenian architecture.
This monument of early Armenian architecture, renovated and enriched throughout the centuries, was a model for other Armenian religious buildings and influenced European architecture. Once again, the Armenian church in Bucharest resembles the Etchmiadzin Cathedral, without being a copy of it.
By Areg Amirkhanian – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,
Bucharest’s Armenian Church (my picture):
Armenian churches show beautiful, specific bell towers and domes.
And if you ask yourself why did I pick this topic – I shall answer that I live in Bucharest close to the Armenian Church and to Armenian and Jewish ”quarters”, maybe obsolete terms now compared to other times, and I wrote this for an online course that I took, and an odd thing is that the Armenian Church in Bucharest, the old one, was commisioned on the date of my birth, 16th of February, plus this new one was founded on the 24th of July, a day to remember as being my name’s saint day – Saint Christina – both for Catholic and for Orthodox Churches. Moreover, the grandma who raised me spent much of her life near the church, exactly in front of it, where she had a workshop, together with my grandpa who died when I was 4 years of age: