The Monastery of Narek

The Monastery of Narek was situated in the Vaspurakan province of Armenia Major, in the region of Rshtunik, near the southern shore of Lake Van, in the village of Narek. The monastery was founded in the 10th century by Armenian monks who, due to persecution, fled Byzantium and took refuge in Armenia.

According to the testimony of Stepanos Taronatsi, the monasteries of Narek, Horomos and Kamrjadzor were led by the same rules. The main church of the monastery, St Sandukht, was a rectangular building with three sanctuaries, two sacristies, western niches with vaults, an eight-faceted dome-drum and a pyramidal dome. According to a tradition, the tomb of St Sandukht was under the southern sanctuary. The chapel with Grigor Narekatsi’s tomb was situated to the east of the Church of St Sandukht, and the Church of Holy God-Bearer was to the south of the latter, with a construction which had a couple of buttresses, a central horseshoe-shaped sanctuary and a vaulted hall.

The Monastery of Narek flourished in the years of Abbot Anania Narekatsi, then of Gregory Narekatsi. Through the efforts of Anania Narekatsi, a school was established at the monastery, where Ukhtanes, Grigor Narekatsi and others studied. In this scriptorium, commentaries on the texts of the Liturgy and Prayer Offices were copied, and other manuscripts were written. The earliest manuscript that has reached us from the Monastery of Narek is a Gospel written in 1069. Though manuscripts were written in the monastery also in later periods, the school of the monastery no longer reached its level of the 10th -11th centuries.

In 1707, Archimandite Minas Kapantsi thoroughly renovated the monastery. In 1787, Abbot Archimandite Barsegh built to the west of the churches a rectangular, four-faceted large narthex where Grigor Narekatsi’s brother Hovhannes and Anania Narekatsi were buried. In 1812, a three-storey belfry was built in front of the western entrance of the narthex. In 1843, the domes of the monastery of Narek were renovated by architect Sahrat Memarbashi and his son Movses. In 1858, the monastery was refurbished by Archimandite Hovhannes. In 1867, Abbot Hovsep Rabuni erected a marble cross-stone (khachkar) on St Grigor Narekatsi’s burial-vault; the Mother of God with the Child Jesus, and St  Grigor Narekatsi kneeling in front of them, were carved on that cross-stone. In 1884, Vardapet Aristakes opened a school for children in the monastery. In 1896, the monastery was attacked by Kurds who killed Abbot Yeghishe and 12 monks. In 1901, an orphanage-school was opened in the monastery through the sponsorship of the Janshian family.

The monastery's pilgrimage days were the feasts of the Transfiguration and of the Holy Cross. About 2 km northwest from the monastery is the cave where St Grigor Narekatsi lived as a hermit. The cave was deemed a sacred place.

The monastery was completely destroyed during the Armenian Genocide.


Murad Hasratyan

Source: Encyclopedia "Christian Armenia" (in Armenian), Yerevan 2002