Etchmiadzin Cathedral was the first cathedral built in ancient Armenia. The original church was built in 301 AD, but it was replaced by the current church in 483 AD. The historic site is located near Mount Ararat, where it is believed Noah’s Ark landed after the flood.
The cathedral is the spiritual center of the Armenian people and the administrative center of the Armenian Apostolic Church. Called the ‘Mother Cathedral of Etchmiadzin’ by Armenians, the cathedral is among the most ancient examples of Christian architecture anywhere in the world. Many scholars believe Etchmiadzin Cathedral is not only the oldest cathedral in Armenia, but also it is believed to be the oldest Christian cathedral in the world.
If Armenian legends and historians are to be believed, Jesus Christ appeared to Saint Gregory the Illuminator in a vision, requesting that a cathedral be built within the ancient city. In the vision, Jesus showed the exact spot where the proposed structure should be built by striking the ground with a golden hammer. The cathedral was dedicated to the Virgin Mary and aptly named ‘Etchmiadzin,’ or ‘the descent (echnel) of the only begotten (miatsin).’
The cathedral is considered one of the most ancient and beautiful examples of Christian architecture. It is 108 ft. long and 98 ft. wide with a height of over 65 ft. As a result of renovations and restorations over a period of many centuries, Etchmiadzin Cathedral’s exterior is a mix of Armenian architectural and artistic styles. Throughout hundreds of years, the cathedral subsequently suffered neglect. In 1441, it was restored and currently is also undergoing another restoration.
Today, Etchmiadzin Cathedral still stands and serves as a major shrine for Christians in Armenia. The cathedral is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it is one of the most popular spots for tourists to visit in the entire country. More than 200,000 pilgrims visit the city each year. For more information, visit www.armenianchurch.org.