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Kecharis Monastery

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Kecharis Monastery - general view

The architectural and artistic complex of Kecharis is situated next to Tsaghkadzor Resort (Gorge of Flowers) eight kilometers northwest of the district center Hrazdan. The monuments stand at the edge of a small site of the eastern slope of the Bambak Ridge. A healthy climate and picturesque scenery — forested mountain slopes and blossoming valleys — provided favorable conditions for building there a settlement in which remnants of ancient structures have survived, including a single-nave basilica of the fifth century. In the 11th century the settlement was a possession of the Princes Pakhlavuni who founded a monastery there, the construction of which continued till the middle of the 13th century. In the 121h—13th centuries Kecharis was a major religious center of Armenia which had a higher school.

The main group of the complex consists of three churches, two chapels and a vestry, to the west of which, quite a distance away, there was another church with its own vestry at the side of a road leading to the forest. There still are many tombstones around these monuments.

As distinct from similar complexes of Armenia, the main structures of Kecharis are arranged along the adjacent sides of a right angle accentuated by the main temple. Being the biggest and tallest of all the structures, it is the artistic dominant of the ensemble, and the spatial arrangement of the rest of the buildings is subordinated to it.

The main temple, the church of St. Gregory, is the monastery’s first structure erected by Grigor Magistros Pakhlavuni in 1003. Being of a domed hall type, it is one of the typical church structures of the period of developed feudalism in Armenia. The composition of the building, known by the monuments in Ptgni (the 6th century) and Harucha (the 680s) acquired individual distinctive features in Kecharis. The interior of the temple is divided by two pairs of wall-attached abutments into three parts of which the central and the biggest part is crowned by a broad cupola resting on spherical pendentives (destroyed by an earthquake in 1927). This imparts to the well-proportioned interior of the building not only integrity, but grandeur as well.

The semicircular altar apse with two-storey vestries on the sides is fitted into a rectangle. On the eastern facade, between the altar and the vestries, there are, just as in Ptgni and Harucha temples, two triangular niches with their light openings flanking the central window of the altar.

As distinct from the temple in Ptgni, the central subcupola space in Kecharis’ Grigory church is more elaborate. The parts of the wall-attached abutments turned to the center of the interior are made in the shape of a bunch of half-columns and braces stretched upwards with which the slightly pointed wall arches with elevated crowns are coordinated. This gives the onlooker the impression of extra height.

The interior decoration is distinguished by the modesty of its elements. The narrow triple windows are connected by flat triple-arch archivolts. On the eastern facade such an archivolt frames triangular niches. The western and southern portals are in the shape of bunches of columns, strongly protruding from the flat wall and connected at the top by arches which are horseshoe-shaped on the southern facade. The capitals and the bases are composed of vari-sized half-toruses. sometimes with plaques also found in structures erected by Vakhram Pakhlavuni and known by the ornamentation of the cathedral in Ani built in 983—1001 by Trdat, the famous architect. The carved geometrical ornament, alternating with rosettes in places, decorates the front wall of the altar sole, the archivolts of the eastern and western facades and the cupola which, a little lower, crowns the cornice drum where it forms a frieze; this technique was widespread in the Armenian monuments of the 13th century.

The church of Surb Nshan, situated south of the church of Grigory, is a small cross-winged domed structure erected, judging by the type of the building and by architectural details, in the 11th century, probably soon after the former temple. The round drum, decorated with a six-span arcature on twin half-columns, rests, by means of spherical pendentives, on two wall-attached pylons and on the corners of the altar apse made as a bunch of semicircular columns. The window openings have profiled edges, and the only western entrance — a strongly protruding portal with a semicircular top resting on half-columns.

The Katoghike (Cathedral) church stands south of this one, with a narrow passage dividing them. Judging by an inscription, it was built under Prince Vasak Khakhpakyan or Proshyan (in the first quarter of the i3th century) by the architect (varpet) Vetsik, in whose memory a khachkar, ornamented with highly artistic carving, was put up a little to the south of this building.

The Katoghike church belongs to the cross-winged domed type and has two-story annexes in all the four corners of the prayer hall. The entrances to the upper eastern annexes are from the side of the altar apse. Stone cantilever stairs lead to the western annexes of the first floor, which distinguishes this structure from others of the same type — from the 1026 church in Hamberd, for instance.

The character of Katoghike church’s decoration is connected with the artistic traditions of the time when it was erected. The deep triangular niches of the eastern and southern facades are crowned with fan-shaped trompes harmonized with subtly drawn small arches, stepped braces, window framings and carved decorative spots — rosettes of various designs and a cross on the tympan of the western facade. All this sets off the gracefulness of the building’s proportions and the severity of its interior. Accordingly, the northern and western entrance portals with arched tops are sunk into the walls rather than protrude from them, as is the case in the churches described above. The round cupola drum, destroyed by earthquake in 1927, was decorated with a 12-arch areature and appealed to the eye by its gracefulness. Mention should he made of the interior decoration, in particular of the areature of the front wall of the altar sole (platform), the carved khachkar-type crosses, the rosettes on the walls and on the spherical pendentives of the cupola where they alternate with flat arch motives.

The vestry, built in the second half of the 12th century and attached to the western facade of Grigory church, is an early structure of this type. The rectangular hall is divided into nine sections by four heavy free-standing columns. The perimetral sections are roofed with plain barrel vaults, while the central, square, section — with an octahedral cloister vault with a lighting aperture at its top. Such type of roofing also existed in the vestries of the end of the 12th century in Nor-Ghetik and Sanahin and at the beginning of the 13th century in Teger.

The eastern corners of the interior are taken up by small two-storey annexes which first appeared in the vestry-type structures in Kecharis. Later, such annexes were built in the chapels of Nor-Ghetik, Khoranashat, Mikavank. etc.

The architectural details of the building are rather modest. The small windows are topped by profiled edges above which there are, in the middle window of the southern facade, octafoil rosettes and sun dials, widespread in Armenia and, on the western facade, jugs. As distinct from the portals of the churches, the only western entrance is built as a rectangular opening with a niche framed with bunches of small columns and an arch. In the interior, the fine geometrical ornaments on the capitals of the columns and on the cornice of the tent base immediately catch the eye.

The chapels situated between the churches of Gregory and Surb Nshan, were small rectangular ones, with an altar apse and vaulted ceilings. The chapel adjacent to the church of Gregory served as the burial vault of Grigor Magistros Pakhlavuni, which means that it was built in the early 11th century. The chapels were united by a small vaulted premise in which classes were probably conducted for the school’s students.

The church of Harutyun, standing on a forest glade, away from the main group, was built by a son of Asan in 1220. This is a small, outwardly rectangular. domed-hall church with a lofty cupola. The only entrance, with a small vestry in front of it, is from the west. As distinct from the ordinary vestries, it has a vaulted ceiling, Ike the 10th-ceutury vestries of Vahanavank and Gndevank monasteries, and is narrower than the church. A distinctive feature of the structure is that it has, on its western facade, twin openings topped with arches which rest on the wall-attached and intermediate columns. This gives the structure the appearance of an open passage. There are many graves in the church which was probably a family burial vault.


  1. St. Gregory Church
  2. Gavit of St. Gregory Church
  3. The katoghike
  4. N'shan Church (Church of the Sign)
  5. A chapel

(St Harutyun not included in plan)


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