Aragatsotn - Tegher Monastery

The inscription shows that the church and the gavit adjoining it on the west were built for Prince Vache Vachutian’s wife (“Mama Khatun”) and designed by architect Vardapet Aghbairik in 1213-1232.


The gavit

The gavit

The gavit, finished in 1221, is particularly impressive, a central plan with four thick squat columns and intersecting arches supporting the center square that transitions into the concave dome with open hole. There is little décor, the shapes of the columns, archways and dome pieces giving substance to the structure, and has a grace unmatched in more elaborate gavits elsewhere.

This was a seminary for deacons and acolytes, a place of serious study, forgoing the distracting details and swirling baroque designs found at Tegher’s sister vanks Saghmosavank and Hovhanavank). The gavit has two chapels with domed bell towers, unlike other gavits in Armenia, though the campaniles set on the roof are reminiscent of the triumphal arch at Horomos monastery near Ani. The towers are tall, with a second floor, where students slept. Access was by ladder near the gavit entrance.

An inscription on one of the columns credits Vardapet Aighbairik with designing the gavit and church. Among the graves on the floor, some of which are beautifully carved with the simplest of lines, is the grave for Mama Khatun herself, the church’s donor (also linked with monasteries at Dadivank in Karabakh) and her husband Prince Vacheh Vachutian. The pictures on the stones, when there is one, lacks any attempt at faithful representation of the person lying below.

The lack of personal features is in line with the church teachings of the time; the belief that to achieve grace, to be ready to enter the kingdom of heaven, one must subsume one’s identity into a kind of nothingness, or at least to anonymity. The figures also suggest something else, not at all proven but one may be true. They seem to be what they are; ghosts. The lines of the shapes of their figures are like the lines of the aura (halo) that Christianity often illustrates as a halo when representing a saint. Presumably all those buried here were considered holy and as such filled with grace, which the halo represented.

Outside, the western wall has a dozen or so khachkars carved into the façade, mostly towards the top of the wall, memorials of wealthy donors who supported the monastery and so were given a stone “calling card” for heaven in return.

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    How to reach Continue uphill on the Dzorap road (take the left fork when given the choice) for about 5 km on a climbing, winding road past the turnoff to Orgov (at about 2.9 km) that gradually deteriorates as it reaches Tegher Monastery․

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