Goshavank Monastery

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XIII AD - Tavush Marz

Goshavank Monastery general view.

In the upper reaches of the Agstev river, there are Haghartsin and Goshavank (Գոշավանք), the monastery ensembles of the Dilijan district. They are situated in dense oak woods, in the gorges of small but turbulent mountain rivers. The local terrain and scenery determined the compositional peculiarities of these ensembles. Neither Haghardzin, nor Goshavank have walls, and their structures are surrounded with verdure and peasants' homes, some being a rather long distance away from the main temples of the ensembles.

Numerous religious and monumental civil buildings show that in the twelfth—thirteenth centuries the monasteries were throbbing with life. It would be appropriate here to note that Goshavank was erected in place of an older monastery, Ghetik, which had been destroyed by an earthquake in 1188. Mkhitar Gosh, a statesman, outstanding scientist and writer, an author of numerous fables and parables and of the first criminal code, took part in building the monastery, which was known as Goshavank in his honor. [Although its other name is Nor-Ghetik.]

In Goshavank Mkhitar Gosh founded a school. One of its alumni, Kirakos Gandzaketsi, an Armenian scientist, wrote “The History of Armenia”. The architect Mkhitar the Carpenter and his disciple Ovanes also took an active part in building the monastery.

The main churches belong to the types widespread in the tenth to the thirteenth centuries — the domed tall or the cross-winged domed building with four annexes in the corners of the central crossing. The small chapels are vaulted, with a semi-circular apse on the eastern side. The Bagratids’ burial vault in Haghardzin has two isolated chapels. The only exceptions are two of Goshavanks churches — Grigor Lusavorich, which is a small vaulted structure, and St. Hripsime chapel (1254), situated south-west of the main group — a domed building, square in the plan, of an original composition.

The churches are decorated in accordance with the traditions of the epoch. As a rule, the door portals and windows are framed in rectangular or arched platbands some of which are profiled. The facade niches have multifoil or scalloped tops like those of the niches of Geghard’s main church. The unusual and artistically framed sun dial on the southern facade is an eye-catching decorative element.

Goshavank - from chapel above

The church of Grigor Lusavorich in Goshavank. started in 1237 and finished by Prince Grigor-Tkha in I 241, while being true to the type of Armenia’s fifth-century basilicas, is distinguished by the beauty of its decoration. The bottom of the altar apse is trimmed by a graceful arcature topped with a band which is ornamented with an intricate geometrical pattern and garlands of alternating trefoils and spheres. The columns of the interior lining the sides of the apse and supporting the wall arch of the arched floor are covered with twisted flutings and fillets; a floral ornament of an ingenious design fills the middle of the lintels of the doors leading to annexes.

The exterior decoration of the church is also rich. The graceful arcature with ornamented spandrels, engirdling the edifice, is topped with half-arches on the corners — a motif repeated in the main church of Dekhtsnutvank as well. This creates not only an interesting decoration of the facets of the edifice, but also a smoother transition of the arcature from one facade to the other. The decoration of the butt facades, especially of the western one, is divided in height into separate parts to produce an impression of a substantial size.

The framings of the twin window of the eastern facade and of the western entrance are most original. The tympanum of the pointed arch of the latter is filled with a fine ornament composed of an intricate interlacement of floral shoots forming a combination of rosettes of various sizes. A similar ornament covers lintel stones, abaci of the columns, individual parts of the archivolt and a hand of eight-pointed stars trimming the portal in a rectangular frame.

The carving is so perfect that the overall impression is that of an openwork lace. The distinctiveness and richness of the church’s decoration evidence the artistic taste and consummate skill of the craftsmen who created it.

The vestries of the monasteries belong to the most common type of premises square in the plan, with roofing supported by four internal abutments. Both buildings have squat octahedral tents above the central sections, which bring these two structure close to the Armenian peasant home of the "glkhatun" type. Goshavank's vestry has small annexes in the corners of the eastern side of the building, while Haghardzin vestry has ornamented corner sections. Decorated with various rosettes, these sections contain sculptures of human figures in monks' attires, carrying crosses, staffs, and birds. The framing of the central window of Haghardzin’s vestry is cross-shaped. Placed right above the portal of the main entrance, it emphasizes the central part of the facade.

The book depository with a bell-tower in Goshavank is a structure of a most unusual composition. Originally, before 1241. there had been in its place a small building with niches for keeping books in and with a wooden "glkhatun" type ceiling. Adjacent to it on the western side was a vast premise which probably served as a refectory and an auditorium. It also had wooden roofing which, judging by its size, had three tents and four internal wooden abutments.

Then, a two-floor bell-tower was built over the book depository. The construction was carried out in two stages. Eight wall-attached abutments and a stone roofing consisting of two pairs of intersecting arches were constructed in the book depository for the cross-plan superstructure. The top floor was elevated only to the height of two rows of stone masonry, as evidenced by the incomplete half-columns situated on the facades. In the second stage, accomplished in 1291 by the patrons Dasapet and Karapet, the top — a small church with two altar apses, crowned with a multicolumn rotund belfry — was completed. The entrance to the church was from the roof of the auditorium by a cantilever stone stair.

The decoration of the building was rather modest. The book depository’s semi-circular and dihedral grooved abutments were topped with plain slabs with the lower corners sloped in the shape of trefoils. The roofings of the corner sections, designed on the false vault principle, are composed of triangles differing in size and shape and arranged in such a way as to form eight-pointed stars. The decoration and design of the base of the rotund belfry, which reproduces in stone modified details of the “glkhatun” wooden tent, is more imposing. The bell-tower was taller than Grigor church, and therefore dominated Goshavank ensemble.

The outer appearance of the building is marked by the gradation of its bulks from the heavy bottom part to the openwork top which emphasizes the domination of the vertical in the building’s composition. The architectural peculiarities of the composition of the bell-tower influenced the design of the structures like the two-story sepulchral churches in Yeghvard and Noravank built in Armenia in the second quarter of the fourteenth century.

Among the memorial khachkars of Haghardzin and Goshavank there are unique and highly artistic ones. Of interest is the ornamental carving of a thirteenth-century khachkar placed next to the southern door of St. Astvatsatsin church in Haghardzin. The khachkars created by the carver Pavgos in Goshavank stand out among the rest. The best of them is a 1291 khachkar with the maker’s name carved in the bottom left star. This is a unique and highly artistic work. The finely carved lacy ornaments are arranged in layers in which the basic elements of the composition — a cross on a shield-shaped rosette and eight-pointed Starr filling the corners of the middle-cross section—show clearly. The intricate openwork ornaments vary — a clear-cut geometrical pattern constitutes the background, and the accentuating elements form a complicated combination of a floral and geometrical ornament which never repeats itself.

"Lacework" khachkar, click on photo for high resolution view.
Interior view of chapel

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