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Ref ID: 3TM2016/2116 | Posted On: 22-06-2017 | Updated on: 22-06-2017

Saint Gayane Church

Monasteries, Cathedral & Churches
Vagharshapat (Etchmiadzin), Armavir Province,
Armenia / Etchmiadzin
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The Church of Saint Gayane (Armenian: Սուրբ Գայանե եկեղեցի; pronounced Surb Gayane) is a 7th-century Armenian church in Vagharshapat (Etchmiadzin), the religious center of Armenia. It is located within walking distance from the Etchmiadzin Cathedral of 301. St. Gayane was built by Catholicos Ezra I in the year 630. Its design has remained unchanged despite partial renovations of the dome and some ceilings in 1652.

Gayane was the name of an abbess who was martyred with other nuns by Tiridates III of Armenia in the year 301, and subsequently made a saint of the Armenian Apostolic Church.[1][2]

In 2000, Saint Gayane Church was listed in the UNESCO World Heritage Sites along with historical churches of Vagharshapat.[3]


Saint Gayane Church sits on the site where the aforementioned saint was martyred during the time of the conversion of Armenia to Christianity in the year 301 AD. The fifth century Armenian historian Agathangelos wrote that the young and beautiful Hripsimé who at the time was a Christian nun in Rome, was to be forcefully married to the Roman emperor Diocletian. She and the abbess Gayané among other nuns fled the tyrant emperor and left to Armenia. The pagan Armenian King Trdat received a letter from Diocletian in which he described her beauty. Trdat discovered where the nuns were hiding, and fell in love with Hripsimé and later Gayané. After her refusal of his advances, Hripsimé was tortured and martyred at the location of Saint Hripsimé Church, while Gayané was tortured and martyred at this site where the church was later built. The remaining group of thirty-eight unnamed nuns were martyred at the location of Shoghakat. During the time that Hripsimé was being tortured, Gayané told her to "be of good cheer, and stand firm" in her faith. King Trdat was to be later converted to Christianity and made it the official religion of the kingdom.


Saint Gayane Church is a three-nave domed basilica with an octagonal drum resting on four internal pillars that divide the interior of the church into three naves. The middle sections of the side naves are elevated slightly over the corner ones and roofed with vaults across the building, forming a transversal nave. At the eastern wall of the church's interior is a semicircular apse with a rectangular chamber at either side. Three portals lead into the interior of the building. The main portal enters through the arched portico, while two side entries are located at the north and south walls.

Frescoes depicting saints on the tympanum above the door.

The exterior of Saint Gayane differs from the interior in that it has a cruciform-plan gable roof with the drum and dome placed central to the main structure.

An airy, triple-arched portico was added to the western façade of the church in 1683 as the burial place for prominent Armenian clergymen. The gallery is made up of five distinct yet continuous bays, each being open and linked to the one adjacent. Its three central bays have vaulted ceilings and large arched openings that lead to the exterior courtyard. The two side bays are slightly lower in height and are vaulted as well. Each is surrounded by walls at three sides with small quatrefoil windows placed on the exterior walls. Frescoes of clergymen adorn niches along the interior walls of the portico while saints are depicted on the frescoe of the tympanum above the main door. Graceful six-columned cupolas sit on the roof above the two end bays and may be seen from the exterior.

Saint Gayane along with eminent churches such as Saint Hripsime, Cathedral of Zvartnots and the Mother Church of Holy Etchmiadzin would become the essence and the pillar of spiritual strength of Christian Armenia.

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