Khor Virap Monastery's Cathedral on April 21, 2017

A Glimpse of Armenia’s Many Monasteries: Travel for PCON

Published: May 20, 2017

A Glimpse of Armenia’s Many Monasteries
Included within Travel Program for
Policy and Conflict in the Post-Soviet Space
for Spring, 2017

Post-Soviet-Conflict-BannerA little known fact (at least, in America, where most things about Armenia are unknown) is that Armenia despite its many Muslim neighbors, was actually the world’s first Christian nation, officially adopting it in the early 4th century. What I learned after only a week in Armenia is that this is not simply some travel guide fact, used to entice tourists. As Armenians will tell you, they are deeply proud of being the worlds first Christian nation, which is unsurprising when you learn that about 92% of people belong to the Armenian Apostolic Church. If you’re like me, and had no idea what that was before talking to a priest from a monastery near Yerevan, Armenia’s capital, then don’t feel bad. Father Garegin, the aforementioned priest, explained to us that the religion is, for the most part, a religion that has a lot in common with Orthodoxy.

With such a high percentages of believers, it’s not surprising that Armenians consider their faith to be a central part of their identity. This is precisely why the Policies and Conflicts in the Post-Soviet Space program (or PCON) through SRAS and NovaMova made sure to cram as many monastery visits as was feasible into the week we spent in Armenia. My impression after visiting several of these sites is that, while the churches themselves are actually rather plain in comparison with famously ornate Orthodox cathedrals (Father Garegin explained that they believe that too much flash can be a distraction when trying to worship), the places they are built in are often times breathtaking. As always, photos will do more than I ever could to explain, and so, let me show you what I saw through my camera lens during my week in Armenia.

Formerly an island, the peninsula of Lake Sevan in Eastern Armenia houses Sevanavank Monastery. Due to artificial draining of the lake under Stalin, the water level fell and transformed the island into a peninsula, making it much more accessible to tourists. Sevan is now a pretty popular tourist destination, and a bit of a resort town, given the Monastery’s picturesque location.
Khor Virap Monastery is located in Ararat Valley, just 15 km from the border with Turkey. The looming mountain peak, hardly visible on the day I visited the monastery, is Mount Ararat, located in Turkey.
The inside of Khor Virap Monastery. As Father Garegin mentioned, considerably less ornate than an Orthodox cathedral. Almost every monastery church we visited shared this same basic layout.


The entrance to Armenia’s Echmiadzin Monastery Complex and Seminary School. The cathedral, being built in the 4th century, is considered the oldest Christian cathedral in the world.


The inside of Echmiadzin Cathedral, despite being under renovation, was the most decorative I witnessed.


A woman lighting candles in the Echmiadzin Cathedral, on April 23, 2017.


A seminary student at Echmiadzin Monastery on April 23, 2017.


The view of Mount Ararat in front of Saint Gayane Cathedral, only a few hundred feet away from Echmiadzin.
About an hour from Yerevan, Noravank Monastery was built in the 13th century. Yet another Armenian monastery built in a breathtaking location.

About the author

Rebekah Welch

Rebekah Welch is a senior at University of Montana in Missoula. She is a double major in Russian and Journalism with an emphasis on photography. She is studying Russian language at NovaMova in Kiev, and am also working for the school as an intern, creating a photoblog. After a semester abroad, she hopes to become fluent enough in Russian that she can work as photojournalist throughout Russia, Eastern Europe, and Central Asia. Although she loves this area of the world, she has a passion for journalism and will go wherever the story takes her.

Program attended: Challenge Grants: Funding for Study Abroad

View all posts by: Rebekah Welch