When visiting Armenia, you must take a trip to Vagarshapat, only 18 km from the capital of Yerevan, to witness the popularly known "Vatican of Armenia" – the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin. It is the main temple of the Armenian Apostolic Church and a UNESCO World Heritage site. The city is a center for religion and culture that goes back to ancient times. It is said that it was founded in the 2nd century BC. The construction of the Echmiadzin Cathedral started in 303, which makes it the oldest Christian cathedral in the world. Although the current sanctuary was built in the 1600s, fragments from the 4th-century altar have been kept in the actual structure.
The origin of the name
Etchmiadzin means "where the Only Begotten descended." The church was named this way to honor the episode that marks the conversion of pagan Armenia to Christianity. The story explains that St. Gregory the Illuminator had a vision of the Son of God as a heroic angelic figure. He marked the ground with a golden hammer in the place where the church should be for the newly converted Christian nation.
The many museums
The cathedral houses a museum built in 1869 on the east side, chosen as a sacred and secure place to store precious artifacts. It contains relics of the Armenian Church, such as the Cross of the Lord and the Holy Lance – a weapon used by a Roman soldier during Jesus' Crucifixion to stab the nails and assure that he was dead. Discover also clerical vestments, the crown of Komitas Vardapet, a silk garment from China used at the premier Divine Liturgy of newly elected Catholics, and a relic of St John the Baptist, one of Armenia's greatest saints. Another important place to visit is the Old Pontifical Residence built between 1738 to 1741, noted for the multi-color frescos that decorate the room and the garments on display worn by Catholicos Vazken I. A majestic red throne and a red eagle carpet are some of the other items that you will observe. Also worth visiting is the Alex and Maria Manoogian Treasury Museum, the newest addition to the complex. It is designed with a marvelous ecclesiastical style using Italian marble for the interior and red tufa stone for the exterior. The museum depicts the story of how Armenia converted to Christianity and it showcases over 500 gifts that were received during the reign of Catholicos Vazken I.
More sights to consider in Armenia
There are a lot of historical sites to see in Armenia. We suggest you visit the Geghard Monastery, a UNESCO world heritage site and the Temple of Garni.