Goshavank Monastery, Armenia

“Here, take these walnuts. They bring luck. They’re from that 800-year-old tree outside,” an old woman named Zarik gives us a nut each and takes us on a tour around the little museum behind Goshavank monastery, once a major religious, cultural and educational center. Zarik briefly introduces the area’s history to us, then presents us with another nut. “Keep one at home, and the other one in your pocket,” she says. We take the nuts, thank her and walk away to explore the Goshavank monastery. Usually, Goshavank is full of tourists. But not today.
Goshavank monastery in the village of Gosh, Tavush province of Armenia

Located in the upper reaches of the Aghstev river in the village of Gosh, Tavush Province of Armenia, the Goshavank monastery was founded in 1188 by the famous Armenian scholar, writer, scientist, thinker and priest Mkhitar Gosh with the support of the Prince Ivane Zakarian. Previously known as Nor Getik (New Getik), it was erected in place of an older monastery called Getik, which had been destroyed by an earthquake in the same year. Goshavank is one of the greatest examples of Armenian architecture: the architect Mkhitar the Carpenter, his disciple Hovhannes and the sculptor Pavghos (Poghos), creator of some of Armenia’s most famous khachkars (stone crosses), took an active part in its construction.
The main entrance to Goshavank monastery in the village of Gosh, Tavush province of Armenia
The monastic complex consists of the St. Astvatsatsin Church (1191-1196), the St. Gregory Church (1208-1241) and the smaller church of St. Gregory the Illuminator (1237-1241), the Gavit of St. Astvatsatsin church (1197-1203), the Bell tower and the book depository built in 1241-1291, the School building and the Gallery created in 13th century, and two chapels. According to the records, before laying the foundations for St. Astvatsatsin church in 1191, Mkhitar and his followers first established a small, wooden church in the name of Saint John the Baptist.
Saint Astvatsatsin church of Goshavank monastery in the village of Gosh, Tavush province of Armenia
Saint Astvatsatsin, the main church of the complex, belongs to the type that was widespread in the 10th-13th cc. – the domed hall or the cross-winged domed building with four annexes in the corners of the central crossing. The church was built between 1191 and 1196 and was sponsored by the Prince of Haterk and his wife Arzukhatun. “The pre-consecration festival at Getik was conducted with great throngs of people attending. Among those present was Yovhannes, the bishop of Haghpat, a virtuous and blessed man as well as a multitude of priests and servitors. And they consecrated the church in the name of the blessed Mother of God,” wrote Kirakos of Gandzak, a 13th-century Armenian historian in his “History of Armenia”.
The dome of Saint Astvatsatsin church, Goshavank monastery, Tavush province of Armenia
The small chapels of Goshavank are vaulted, with a semi-circular apse on the eastern side. Although, the single-nave St. Gregory the Illuminator church is an exception among them. The construction began in 1237 and was completed four years later by Prince Grigor-Tgha. While being true to the type of Armenia’s 5th century basilicas, the church is distinguished by the beauty of its decorations, both interior and exterior.
Saint Gregory the Illuminator church, Goshavank monastery, Tavush province of Armenia
As we walked around the churches of the monastery, we soon found ourselves standing in front of the famous Pavgos Khachkar. Khachkar (cross-stone), a carved memorial stele bearing a cross, is a characteristic of Medieval Christian Armenian art. The stones, their symbolism and craftsmanship are inscribed in the UNESCO list of Intangible Cultural Heritage since 2010.
The famous Pavgos khachkar at Goshavank monastery, Tavush province of Armenia
There is a number of khachkars in Goshavank, of which the most beautiful is the Pavgos, one of the three finest examples of Armenian khachkhars. It was carved in 1291 by master Pavgos. For its incredibly detailed patterns it is known as “The Needlecarved”.
Details of Pavgos khachkar at Goshavank monastery, Tavush province of Armenia
In the 12th-13th centuries Goshavank became one of the most famous spiritual and educational centers of medieval Armenia. It was led by Mkhitar Gosh, who taught a number of renowned scholars and established the first law library in Armenia.
Goshavank monastery, Tavush province of Armenia
In November, 2012 when we visited Goshavank during our hitchhiking trip along the Silk Road of Armenia, the monastery was not functioning. Half a year later, I visited Goshavank again, and upon entering the St. Astvatsatsin church, I heard a group of people rehearsing choral songs. From a local lady I learned that three months earlier a new abbot was appointed by the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin. The abbot opened a choral singing class and formed the first group of students, reviving the long lost traditions of Goshavank.

Sources:
-Armenia Monuments Awareness Project
-O. Khalpakhchian, “Architectural ensembles of Armenia” – Moscow, 1980.

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6 thoughts on “Goshavank Monastery, Armenia

  1. Pingback: Goshavank | One Hundred & Eight Roads

  2. Pingback: Armenia’s Silk Road Trip – 2012 | On The Road

  3. We didn’t meet Zarik when we were there 😦 – we probably wouldn’t have been able to communicate much if we had, although it’s surprising how much one can communicate without any common language! And we might have shared a little Russian, but my Russian is very rudimentary 😦

  4. Pingback: In Search of Makaravank Monastery | On The Road

    • Big Sur… that’s where Jack Kerouac spent some time with Neal Cassady. That’s one of the places I’d like to visit if I happen to visit the US. Thanks for sharing.

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