Armenia holds a unique position in religious history a the first country in the world to become official Christian, a feat it achieved in 301 CE, ten years before Emperor Galerius officially tolerated Christianity in the Roman Empire in 311. Armenia then occupied a very different and much extended territory to its current denuded size, squashed into the mountain ranges of the Lower Caucasus Mountains. The country has had a tumultuous, often violent history since, but it remains Christian to this day, a fact recalled by the inspiring Geghard Monastery in the center of the country.
St. Gregory the Illuminator (his title refers to his illuminating enlightenment, not his skills as an illustrator) is the patron saint and first official head of the Armenian church, as well as the man credited with converting Armenia to the new faith. At some time before his death in circa 331, he founded a monastery at the site of a scared spring inside a cave, hence its original name of Ayrivank, or “monastery of the cave.” Its common name today, Geghardavank, “monastery of the spear,” originates from the spear that wounded Christ at his crucifixion and was allegedly brought to Armenia by the Apostle Jude.
This extraordinary monastery sits among the towering cliffs of the Azat River gorge. The trail to the monastery, taking you 9.3 km out of the town of Garni, ends with a spectacular approach to the monastery along the gorge. The monastery buildings largely date to the 1200s, a series of churches, chapels, and rooms dug out of solid rock. And above the monastery are a series of ancient monastic caves more lures for the compulsive hiker on a day of discovery in Ancient Armenia.
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