Khor Virap Monastery

Khor Virap stands on the left bank of the Arax River, in Ararat Valley, in the shadow of Mt. Ararat (5165 m. and 3925m.). It is located at the site of a pagan temple to goddess Anahit, on hill 6 of the upper city of Artashat.

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Khor Virap

Khor Virap

If Artashat City was set in history by the founder of the Artashesian kingdom, Khor Virap's place is fixed by Grigor Lusavorich (Gregory the Illuminator, ca. 257-334) who descended from the same Parthian family. The story of his imprisonment at Khor Virap and ministry is one of the most important chapters in the history of dissemination of Christianity in Armenia.

The story begins with the murder of the 3rd century Armenian king Khosrov the Great, a member of the Armenian branch of the Parthian House, after his kinsmen in Persia had been wiped out by the Sassanids, who then invaded Armenia. Khosrov had resisted Sassanid invasions, and defeated them in several battles before he was assassinated by a distant relative named Anak who had been recruited by the Sassanids to murder the king. Anak was then captured and exectuted along with his family, while two of his sons (one of which was Grigor) escaped to Caesarea. 

The king's only son, T'rdat, was also spirited away, to Rome, where he was raised under royal patronage, and became well versed in languages and military tactics. He considered Christians as a major political threat.

On reaching manhood, T'rdat was placed at the head of a Roman legion by Emperor Aurelian and sent to attack the Sassanids in Armenia. En route T'rdat met and welcomed Grigor (who kept his Christian identity secret) into his court.  T'rdat drove the enemy out in 287. Armenian historians write that during a pagan ceremony T'rdat ordered Grigor to place a flower wreath at the foot of a statue of the goddess Anahit in Eriza.  Grigor refused, proclaiming his Christian faith. This angered the king, who then became enraged on learning Grigor's true identity--the son of the man who assassinated his father. Grigor was tortured and then thrown into Khor Virap, a deep pit in the castle dungeon at Artashat, filled with poisonous snakes and insects.

There he languished for 13 years until the king - who had gone mad after ordering the murder of Saints Hripsimeh and Guyaneh - met Grigor at the behest of the king's sister, Khosrovadukht. She had had a dream where she was told that to save the king's sanity, her brother must submit to Grigor's commands. 

Meeting him at Zvartnots, the king repented of his sins and converted to Christianity, wherein he was cured of his madness. This marks the beginning of the conversion of the kingdom, placed at 301.

Adoption of Christianity as a state religion and creation of the Armenian alphabet by Mesrop Mashtots 100 years later protected the Armenian people from assimilation in succeeding centuries.

Khor Virap and the Vartanants War

After Armenia’s adoption of Christianity Sassanid Persians began a campaign to force the country to convert to zoroastrianism. In response to these attempts, the Catholicos (spiritual father of the nation), high-ranking religious figures and princes met in Artashat and wrote a now famous response to the Sassanid king's demand that they repudiated Zoroastrianism. Among those present at the meeting was Vartan Mamikonian, who had been Sparapet (general) of the Armenian forces since 432.   

Furious, the Sassanids then summoned Armenia's lords to Ctesiphon, forcing them to convert to Zoroastrianism on the bank of the Tghmut River. Upon his return home, Vartan repudiated the Persian religion and instigated a great rebellion against the Sassanid overlords. This was a war over freedom of conscience and independent statehood.

Although Vartan Mamikonian died in the Battle of Vartanants (451) on the fields of Avarayr, the continued insurrection led by his brother's son, Vahan Mamikonian, resulted in the restoration of Armenian autonomy with the Nvarsak Treaty (484), thus guaranteeing the survival of Armenian statehood in later centuries.  Vartan was canonized as one of the Church's saints and today he is commemorated by an equestrian statue in Yerevan.


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    How to reach From Yerevan drive 44 km to south. The trip will approximately take 40 minutes.

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