Armenian Christianity at Tatev

Tuesday 18 November

We could barely see the ground from our 8th floor room in Kapan when we woke up. We were in the clouds.

And the day continued that way. We drove to Yerevan with a stop at the Tatev Monastery which was first established in the 10C. It had been a working monastery until 1931 when a massive earthquake destroyed much of it.

Before we arrived at Tatev we stopped by a village bread shop. The delicious bread was cooked in a stone oven.  It is an age old art in fear of being lost by modern machinery.

In recent years an Armenian banker Ruben Vardanyan, and his wife Veronika Zonabend, created the Wings of Tatev foundation to restore the monastery. They have started reconstruction and also built a reverse direction cable car to reach the monastery over a gorge, and earn money for the restoration project.

The cable car travelled through the clouds until it reached the gorge where it dropped enough to take us below the clouds, with a great view of the gorge and river underneath and the monastery on the cliff.

There is a Dzit Han or oil mill that the monks built in 17C just outside the monastery.  The mill was cutting edge of its time and produced oil from plants such as linseed, sesame and hemp.  It has been restored in recent times.

Churches were first built on the site in the 4C AD on a site believed to be the burial place of the Apostle Thaddeus.

There is also an interesting engineering feat of the upright pendulum, known as the Gavazan, which was pivoted in such a way that it tilted to warn of earthquakes or the rumbling of invading armies.  The 1931 earthquake did destroy it and although it is erected again, a fund is set up to restore its pivoting movement.

Thaddeus & Bartholomew are believed to have travelled to Armenia 2 years after Jesus’ crucifixion with up to 70 followers, to spread Christianity.

But Christianity wasn’t initially accepted, not until Tiridates III was converted by Gregory the Illuminator. From then Armenia became a Christian state and now claims to be the oldest Christians, with the Armenian Apostolic Church established in 301AD.

From then on they have constantly defended their borders from Persian raids and their land area grew, to cover Anatolia in Turkey and parts of present day Persian and Russia, and shrunk again. Today they have ongoing border access issues with Azerbaijan which has disjointed states to its east and south west.

Following a massive genocide exercise under the Ottoman’s commencing in 1915, they do not have a relationship with Turkey, so the only land border crossings are through Iran and Georgia.

We had lunch at Tatev, cabbage rolls which were delicious. We were also introduced to Sorrell, a herb with many curative qualities. On the journey to Yerevan our driver stopped to purchase some Sorrell from a delightful ancient lady with a beautifully wizened face. Shows what a tough life it is in the mountains.

Armenia is a desolate, mountainous region and our journey took us over numerous passes with great scenery that would have been stunning had the clouds lifted.

It was late when we arrived in Yerevan, the hotel was delightful and the staff the friendliest we had met. Better still was the restaurant – with such a variety of great Armenian food (not kebabs, kebabs or kebabs), that we ate there 3 of our 4 nights and we reckon we enjoyed an excellent cross section of their culinary delights.

Links in this page are from Wikipedia.