Churches of Historic Armenia: A Legacy to the World


An Exhibition of Color Photographs by Richard A. Elbrecht and Anne Elizabeth Elbrecht
Presented by the Armenian Studies Program California State University, Fresno

“We know of few countries with a history as turbulent as that of Armenia—ravaged by wars and invasions and occupied by foreign powers—which have left so rich an artistic heritage.” -Sirarpie Der Nersessian

“In their nearly 3000-year history, the Armenians have rarely played the role of aggressor; rather, they have excelled in agriculture, arts and crafts, and trade. Armenians have produced unique architectural monuments, sculpture, illuminated manuscripts and literature.” -George A. Bournoutian

“The history of the Armenian nation does not depend on the written record alone, but is substantiated by a mass of standing remains, ranging from the ancient and medieval capitals to the isolated castles and monasteries which so characteristically mark the landscape.” -Richard G. Hovannisian

“Monuments such as the Cathedral at Ani and the wondrous masterpiece of Aght‘amar are in danger of collapse through neglect.” -Dickran Kouymjian.

Christianity and the Church Edifice

“Armenia architecture is essentially that of church buildings; thus it is a Christian architecture.” -Dickran Kouymjian, The Arts of Armenia, 1992

“The church edifice is the privileged place where Christian mysteries and Christian life find their full expression.” -Boghos Levon Zekiyan, The Ecclesiology of the Early Armenian Church, 1982

“A Christian church is essentially a mirror of the heavenly kingdom, with Whose worship its worship is one.” -Jocelyn M C. Toynbee, Architecture and Art in the Graeco-Roman World, 1969

“In touch with the East and with the West, Armenian architecture drew its inspiration from both sources and served as a link between them.” -Sirarpie Der Nersessian, Armenia and the Byzantine Empire, 1947

“Temples of worship and the images that fill them are first of all documents of the history of religion. Until we have grasped their spiritual dimensions we have not begun to account for them on their own terms.” -Thomas F. Mathews, Art and Architecture in Byzantium and Armenia, 1995

“The Church becomes a true Church only when she remains faithful to her God-given mission, namely, by spreading and translating Christ's Gospel.” -His Holiness Aram I, 1997


The captions to the photographs in this exhibition are based on the studies of scholars whose names and publication dates follow each caption. Without their contributions, the identity, history and significance of the churches would not be known or understood. We thank the named scholars and others who have helped us identify monuments and uncover their history. These include T. A. Sinclair, Patrick Donabédian, Dickran Kouymjian, Robert Hewsen, Richard Hovannisian, Claire Mouradian, Keram Kévorkian, Raymond Kévorkian, Christina Maranci, Armen Aroyan, Peter Cowe, Steve Sim, Lucy Der Manuelian, Jonathan Varjabedian, Gabriella Uluhogian, Shushan Yeni-Komshian Teager, the late Vahe Oshagan, and the late Vazken Parsegian. Responsibility for selecting and presenting the data is ours.

The history of the photographed churches - their design, construction, use, neglect, preservation, and restoration - is still being written as scholars and those involved in preservation and restoration carry on their work. The purpose of this exhibition is to aid in educating the public and to inspire continuing scholarship and on-site work. On-site projects (some of which have begun) include resumption of archaeological work at Ani, interrupted by World War I, and restoration of the Cathedral and churches at Ani, the churches at Khtskonk, Varak and Kizil Kilise, and the Church of the Holy Cross on Aght‘amar Island in Lake Van. These churches are treasures of humanity, and future generations will honor those who care for them.

Richard and Anne Elbrecht

Davis, California

March 2008