Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin


Etchmiadzin is the Vatican of the Armenian Apostolic Church, the place where Surp Grigor Lusavorich saw a beam of light in a divine vision, and where he built the first Mayr Tachar (Mother Church of Armenia). Though its rich history and symbolic importance make it a revered destination for Armenian Christians, the compound's churches and museums are underwhelming. Those who only have time for one day trip from Yerevan should consider visiting Geghard Monastery and Garni Temple instead.

The main cathedral, Mayr Tachar, stands in a quadrangle of hedges and lawn surrounded by 19th-century buildings. The original church was consecrated between AD 301 and 303 when Christianity was first adopted by the Armenian nation, but later fell into ruin and was rebuilt in 480–83. More work and expansion occurred in the 600s, 1600s and 1700s, and a major restoration of the interior was being undertaken at the time of writing. The three-tiered bell tower at the entrance of the church is richly carved and dates from 1654. Inside, the church is modest in scale, about 20m by 20m, but the roof gleams with frescoes. At the centre is an altar at the place where St Gregory saw the divine light strike the ground. Divine Liturgy is celebrated every Sunday starting at 11am (10.30am on feast days). Morning services are generally conducted at 7.30am from Monday to Saturday and 8am on Sunday. Evening services are generally conducted at 5.30pm daily.

The grounds include the Palace of the Catholicos (aka the Veharan), the home of the present Catholicos, Karekin II, who was enthroned in 1999. He is the supreme prelate of the 1700-year-old Armenian Apostolic faith. There's also the Cathedral Museum containing precious items obtained by the Church, and the disappointing Rouben Sevak Museum.

The gardens of Mayr Tachar have a 1915–23 Genocide Monument and many fine khachkars assembled from around the country. There are also a number of contemporary churches, seminaries and libraries in the compound, the most notable of which is the Holy Archangels Church next to the main gate. This was designed by Jim Torosyan and consecrated in 2011.

Lonely Planet's must-see attractions

Nearby Armenia attractions

1. Cathedral Museum


Etchmiadzin's main museum houses precious objects and relics, including the Holy Lance (Surp Geghard), the weapon allegedly used by a Roman soldier to…

2. Rouben Sevak Museum

0.13 MILES

In the grounds of Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin, this museum displays paintings collected by Mr Sevak. It's poorly lit and not particularly noteworthy.

3. Surp Gayane

0.23 MILES

A short walk from Komitas Sq past the main gate of the Holy See, St Gayane was the prioress of the 32 virtuous maidens who accompanied St Hripsime to…

4. Surp Shogahat

0.93 MILES

Slightly less interesting than Vagharashapat's other churches but still worth a visit is Surp Shogahat, a sturdy stone structure with simple, elegant…

5. Surp Hripsime

1.12 MILES

Constructed in 618, this church is on the site where St Hripsime was slain after she refused to marry the pagan King Trdat III, choosing instead to stay…

6. Zvartnots Cathedral

2.47 MILES

Catholicos Nerses III (known as 'the Builder') sponsored construction of the 'Celestial Angels Cathedral' in the 7th century. Destroyed in the 10th…

7. Karmir Blur

7.88 MILES

The Urartian king Rusa II moved his capital from Erebuni to this nearby site in the 7th century. Sadly, few traces of his fortified citadel remain.

8. Karmravor

10.39 MILES

Across from Pascal & Diodato and up a short staircase is a tiny 7th-century church with a roof of red clay tiles and an octagonal cupola. From the door,…