Welcome to Geghard Monastery
Legend has it that Geghard Monastery was founded in the 4th century. The most ancient of the cave churches, St Gregory’s, dates back to the 7th century. Once called Ayrivank (Cave Monastery), Geghard was burned by invading Arabs in 923.
As you approach the monastery, look to the left up the hill for caves that house monastic cells built by monks. Trees here are often dotted with strips of cloth, as are trees on the other side of the monastery near the river. It is said a person can say a prayer or make a wish and tie a strip of cloth to a tree near the monastery to make it come true.
Inside the monastery walls, Geghard’s two main churches date from the 13th century. The principal structure, Surp Astvatsatsin Church (Holy Mother of God Church), was built in 1215. The adjoining vestibule, larger than the church itself, with an intricate carved ceiling and nine arches, dates from 1215 to 1225. Outside, above the south door, is a coat of arms of the family of the Zakarian prince who built it. The theme is a common Near Eastern one, with the lion symbolising royal might.
On the right-hand side of the vestibule are two entrances to chapels hewn from the rock. The left-hand one dates from the 1240s. It contains a basin with spring water believed to be lucky or holy. Splashing some of this water on your body is said to keep your skin youthful.
The right-hand chapel, constructed in 1263, includes the four-column burial chamber of Prince Papaq Proshian and his wife, Hruzakan. The family’s coat of arms, carved in the rock above, features two lions chained together and an eagle.
Outside, steps on the left lead up the hill to a 10m passage into another church that has been carved out of the raw rock. The proportions in this room are nothing short of extraordinary, considering it was carved from the rock around it. The acoustics of the chamber are also quite amazing (on weekends, choir groups sometimes perform here). In the far corner is an opening looking down on the church below.
On the right-hand side of the church are steps that lead to some interesting monastic cells and khatchkars. Outside the monastery, next to the stream, is an active matagh (sacrifice) site.