Two destinies: Saint Paul and Peter and Saint Holy Mother-Catoghike churches

The medieval history of Yerevan would be incomplete without the architectural description of the city. Being a war arena for centuries and suffering from regular destructions and natural disasters Yerevan lost its architectural features typical for the Middle Ages. Those few churches, bridges, public construction were subjected to death during the system of government of last century.

Being considered inappropriate for the Communist ideology many churches were destroyed due to construction development novelties-wide streets, squares, cultural centers. All the churches preserved in the territory of the Soviet Armenia were considered monuments and were protected first of all for their architectural value and only then for their spiritual significance ( National Archive, Fund 1063,list 1. Book 1053). This circumstance has numerous positive aspects: it is well-known that the fact of considering churches to be historical monuments has played a great role in preserving their cultural heritage and presenting to public. If we observe the medieval churches of Yerevan as architectural monuments we should for a while pay no attention to religious upbringing and its manifestations. Only at the end of the 20th century and at present, due to religious awakening it has become possible to restore the ruined churches.

Drawing parallels and comparing the churches built in different centuries we make sure that irrespectively of their outward look the religious constructions appeared in the Middle Ages and being constructed up to now, i.e. temples, churches, chapels, cathedrals have the same beginning- they were constructed by the followers of the Christian illuminating belief.

The churches considered to be the cradle of Christian belief are now evaluated as creations of art and building activity of the Armenian people, as historical and architectural monuments: the history of construction, the time, architectural technique, analysis of interior, presentation of the data of possible building owners, participation of any eminent person or attitudes to the monument-any of this aspects is attached importance.

In this aspect, St Paul and Peter and St Holy Mother-Catoghike churches, which are among those few medieval monuments of Yerevan should be noted. They had different destinies.

St Paul and Peter (Surb Poghos-Petros) was the brightest medieval temple situated in the territory of Yerevan. It was located in the center of the «old city», in Shahar quarter. In the 1930s, because of the changes to be made in the plan of the city and justified by the necessity of construction of wide streets and squares, blocks of flats, cultural centers many constructions existing in the medieval period including a number of churches were destroyed.

St Peter and Paul church «deserved» this destiny too. On the event of the «Moskva» cinema construction in 1930-1931, the basilica church was destroyed (K.Ghafadaryan, Yerevan: medieval monuments, Yerevan, 1975, page 33). As a result of researches made during the process of destruction it was found out that the church was reconstructed at the end of the 17th century after the massive earthquake taken place in Yerevan in 1679, but it included the remains of the temple built in the 5-6 century, especially the valuable frescoes preserved on the support frames. It took specialists big efforts to forbid destruction of that monument of great significance for the history of Yerevan.

In his report addressed to the Educational Committee G. Chirikov tried to stop the destruction: «In fact the church represents the Armenian architecture of the 17th century. The Committee on the protection of antiquities asks to intercede for not allowing destruction of the monument, particularly as it doesn’t hinder the construction development of the surroundings» (NA,f.1063, l.1,b.92,p.1).

The process of destruction of the church was thoroughly studied by specialists but unfortunately it was measured before destruction. The various inside and outside records on the walls were deciphered and published by K. Ghafadaryan. It was found out that the building of the big church functioning at the end of the 19th and at the beginning of 20th centuries was reconstructed as far back as in 1679 after the earthquake, on the place of the same name church. The khachkars (cross stones) with 1691 /ՌՃԽՍ/ and 1692 /ՌՃԽԲ/ (the Armenian letters stand for the numbers according to their place in the alphabet)enchased on the eastern and southern walls allowed the researchers to suggest that Poghos-Petros church was reconstructed in the early 1690s at the same time with other churches of the city, and the dates 1778 and 1811 enchased on the southern wall referred to later reconstructions (Yer. Shahaziz, Old Yerevan,Yerevan, 2003. K. Ghafadaryan, Yerevan:medieval monuments,Yerevan, 1975,rec.60,64).

The French traveler Jean Charden whose description of Yerevan before the earthquake is very important from the point of view of more complete architectural picture of our city, mentioned, «…there are many churches many of which are the most important: the patriarchal primacy called Irkuiritse («Two faces») and Catovik (Catoghike)…». Charden didn’t mention Poghos-Petros church probably in some other reason, i.e. because Two faces was the same Poghos-Petros (T. Hakobyan, Yerevan history 1801-1879, Yerevan 1959, page 352). (The word «eres» («face») has various meanings in Armenian: face, image, person, see, appear and others. H. Acharyan, Armenian dictionary of roots, v.2, page 46, Yerevan 1973).

The description of the church how it looked in the first quarter of the 19th century was given by Hov. Shahkhatunyants the essence of which translated from the Western Armenian language is that Saint Paul and Peter church was bigger than Catoghike. Some other details of its external and internal look were given by him The whole description is given in T. Hakobyan, Yerevan history 1801-1879, Yerevan 1959, p.247. In fact, the church looked unattractive though it was built of hewn stone and was decorated with many khachkars. The big expert of the history of Yerevan Yervand Shahaziz speaking about the old churches of the city summarizes, « The exterior of Yerevan churches doesn’t leave a pleasant impression for an ordinary viewer». Karo Ghafadaryan also points at the fact that not only the exterior but the interior as well are unattractive and don’t look like the three-nave basilica temples of the 4-6 centuries. (Yer. Shahaziz, Old Yerevan, Yerevan, 2003. K. Ghafadaryan, Yerevan: medieval monuments, Yerevan 1975).

The courtyard and the bell tower attached late didn’t correspond with the basilica construction of the temple. In Surb Poghos-Petros church some segments survived since old times beside the main altar and in eastern vestries / this church as well as Catoghike had no western vestries/. One of the segments was dedicated to St. Stephen the other to John the Baptist. According to the record survived on the southern wall /ՌՄԿԹ-1820թ./, the church was reconstructed by the means collected from the community (from “blessed people”) (Yer. Shahaziz, Old Yerevan, Yerevan 2003, p.210. T. Hakobyan, Yerevan history:1801-1879, Yerevan,1959,p.247; K. Ghafadaryan, Yerevan:Medieval monuments, Yerevan,1975,r.61,p.160). In the past churches were built and repaired at the costs of individuals: local prince, some clergyman or wealthy worshipper. Sometimes some individuals assisted in the process of building and erected a column or an altar leaving records about it. In this way, the record on the wall of the vestry dedicated to St. Stephen beside the main altar witnesses that in January,1831 it was built by Stepanos Jalalyan from Agulis who was a well-known person in Yerevan in those days (Yer Shahaziz, Old Yerevan, Yerevan, 2003,p.210). A record about the construction of the vestry dedicated John the Baptist was left by Vardan Karapetyan from Yerevan,1831. (Yer, Shahaziz, Old Yerevan, Yerevan, 2003,p.210).

During the destruction of the main altar six layers of murals of different periods were found on the plaster. This occurrence was evaluated and the process of destruction was stopped for a while and a special commission was formed which included G. Chirikov, A. Kalantar, Schulz, N. Mar, Taragros, H.Qyurtyan. “These pictures are of great novelty now not only for the history of Armenian art, the most ancient frescoes known up to know /Ani, Kober, Haghpat, Geghard/ are not eralier than 13th century, but also of great significance from the point of view of the world art. Besides, due to this invention the distant past of Yerevan is beginning to open before us… This monument with its exclusive remains is to make a breakthrough in the history of art and is to give the opportunity to the Soviet science to say a new word and have big achievement in the sphere of the history of fine arts,… this monument should be scrutinized” ,said the massage of Alexander Tamanyan addressed to the Educational Commission (March 2,1930). In this message he stressed the significance of the monument and the intention to preserve it (NA,f. 1063,l.1,b.92,p.2). According to the archive documents, a group of the Armenian intelligentsia /S.Budumyan, S.Poghosyan, Ye.Bayburdyan,R.Drampyan, N.Tokarski, K. Ghafadaryan, V. Ghazanchyan, G. Gyurjyan, Taragros, L. Durnova and others/ organized a number of discussions, extended scientific conferences during which they attached importance to medieval murals in general, and to the ones of St Peter and Paul church in particular ( NA, f.1063,l.1,b.330,p.75). And when it became unavoidable they took actions to save the remnanats of those murals which are now kept in our city museums.

As a result of thorough activities carried out for a month and a half it becomes clear that the murals can’t be removed from the walls without damaging them. This was reported on March 1930 by G. Chirikov who was sure that “…this material of exclusive value is disappearing irretrievably. The pictures preserved here are considered to be a real beacon for the subsequent generations studying this technique” (NA, Fund 1063, list 1,book 92, page 4,5).

The studies carried out by the invited experts B. Yukin, German archaeologist Schnizer showed that preliminarily, in the 5-6th centuries the walls of the church were bare. The floral ornaments found in the low layer of the plaster were dated 7-9th centuries according to the laboratory analysis of their technique and the used paints and the murals of the arch of the altar where Peter and Paul are painted are dated 12-13th centuries. The latter had corresponding engravings with their names (Ye. Shahaziz, Old Yerevan, Yerevan 2003, p.225). The remains of the upper layer of the four murals with the pictures of St. Sargis, St. Gevorg, figures with keys and swords referred to the 16-17th centuries according to observers, and the pictures made on the walls-the portraits of Paul and Peter referred to the 19th century (after the reconstruction of 1893 three murals were made in the following themes by the order of Hambardzum Yeghiazaryan: St. Trinity, St. Bartholomew night, Christmas, Holy Baptism, Crucifixion, Resurrection, Ascension, the coming of the Savior, St. Mary’s, but those murals had no aesthetic value. NA, fund 971,l.1,b.20,p.25).

Schnizer made a report on the murals of the early period in 1931 in Berlin, at the conference of “Notgeimainschafdt” company which arose great interest to the murals of Peter and Paul church (NA,F.1063,l.1,b.330,p 2,3). “The scarce number of the murals preserved in the territory of Armenia makes us pay particular attention to each particle which dates back at least 17th century if not earlier”, such opinions and concerns could be often heard during scientific discussions (NA,f.1063,l.1,b.330, p.2-3).

Yet because of already started destructions the picturesque surfaces of the walls of the church had been badly damaged, and only some fragments could be saved from unavoidable loss due to partial replacements. The report addressed to Yerevan Town Council by H. Zoryan read:

“The consultants of my institute (Institute of the history of material culture of the Educational Committee of the Arm SSR, NA, f.1063,l.1,b.124,p.60), academician Al. Tamanyan, architect T. Toramanyan and others find that it’s impossible to remove the frescoes and replace them somewhere else without completely damaging them making them of no value. These frescoes can be safely kept only by means of X-ray apparatus. Such apparatus can’t be found in Armenia. The opinion of my institute is that taking into account the urgency of building activities all the parts of the church may be destroyed but the columns with the frescoes should be put under special protective frames”(NA,f.1063,l.1,b.124,p.60). The further destiny of the murals is tightly connected with the expert-restorer invited from Kiev B. Yukin. Being left open for years (till 1939) the murals become more damaged which caused concern of the intelligentsia: they tried to decide whether the columns decorated with murals should be preserved on their place /M. Saryan, Taragros, R. Drampyan, S. Poghosyan, Shahnazaryan/ or they should be taken to the museum /D. Danielyan, P. Terlemezyan, Ye. Bayburdyan, S. Avetisyan/ ( NA f. 1063, c.1, b. 330,p.11,12,16, 24-27).

After a careful study, realizing the vital importance of saving the murals B. Yukin undertakes taking out the murals as soon as possible and replacing them in special containers so as to hand them to museums. As a result of the high quality work of the restorer the fragments of the murals the total surface of which was 14,25 sq m were carefully taken out, restored and handed to the National Gallery, the Museum of Armenian History, to the Yerevan History Museum for permanent preservation. (NA, f.1063,l.1, b.330, p.53,57, 84-97). Those murals included floral ornaments, images of St Sargis on horseback, two images of Apostles Paul and Peter -one with a sword in his hand, the other standing with a key in his hand (each of the twelve Apostles had his symbol, for instance, in the Mother See of Holy Echmiatsin Apostle Paul is represented with a book in his right hand and a sword in his left hand, and Apostle Peter is represented with a book in his right hand and keys in the left hand, Apostle Bartholomew-with a picture in his right hand and a knife in his left hand, Thaddeus was with a picture in his right hand and a spear in the left hand. It could be supposed that Apostles Peter and Paul were painted on the layer of the mural referring to the late medieval period too (In his report on the activities related to the replacement of the murals B. Yukin mentioned that instead of the previously planned two layers he removed from the walls everything possible including the murals of the figure with a sword in his hand specially for the Yerevan anti-religious museum, NA, f.1063, l.1, b.330, p.44. The anti-religious museum was formed in 1939 in St Zoravor church. The latter was vacant because of the lack of religious community and as a historical an architectural monument went under the jurisdiction of the State Committee of Armenia. NA, f.1062, l.1,b.272). These pearls of the medieval period are now presented to the public as the witnesses of our history.

The door of the southern entrance of Poghos-Petros church is worth special attention: it is a two-winged door made of iron and the surface fixed with iron nails. Previously the door belonged to the fortress of Old Bayazet, 1835. A priest named Vardan bought it from a dweller of Bayazet Mukhsi Saqo by name and presented it to the church. It is notable that the door fitted the frame of the southern entrance without any changes. (Yu. Tamanyan, The new life of monuments, Yerevan,1988,page 17. K. Ghafadaryan, Yerevan:medieval monuments, Yerevan,1975. Ye. Shahaziz, Old Yerevan, Yerevan, 203). Now it is in the YHM.

Poghos-Petros church which used to be often referred to as “old Yerevan church” (Ye. Shahaziz, Old Yerevan, Yerevan,2003) is one of the biggest medieval monuments. Its existence undoubtedly witnesses that in the 5-6th centuries Yerevan was quite a big and important settlement. It can be supposed that at least one of the two clergymen from Yerevan who participated in the well-known anti-Chalcedon meeting taken place in Dvin in 607 /David fro Yerevan and Jojik from Yerevan/ (“Book of documents: bibliography,7th century”, 1901) was of the clergymen of Poghos-Petros church.

One of the few survived medieval churches of Yerevan is St Holy Mother Catoghike (the double name is connected with the big and small chapels built in different periods). It is situated in the quarter of Yerevan which is called Old quarter or Shahar and was built in 1694 in place of the old church /12-13 centuries/ ruined after the massive earthquake of 1679. At that time it was named Catoghike and in accordance with the records of the 13th -14th centuries it also bored the name “Yerevan church”. St Holy Mother-Catoghike was a rectangle construction with a sloping vaulted roof seated on the outer walls and a belfry in front of the southern door /1832/, which was repaired in 1866 according to the records (NA,f.1073,l.1,b.315). The old construction of Catoghike had a chapel had been repaired at different times on the same place-1472 and in 1609 by means of merchant khoja Tezagulents Margar, and in 1642 (NA,f.1063,l.1,b.1140; f.1063, l.1,b.315,1557,1140, there are records). Before the big earthquake the chapel was fundamentally built by Khoja Grigor, the son of Arzumbek from Yerevan. The latter presented the church some manuscripts, valuable church accessories such as a Bible in gold cover, silver items and so on.This is witnessed in a manuscript dated .1652 (in Old Armenian). (Ye Shahaziz, Old Yerevan, Yerevan,2003,page 208).

Inside Catoghike church was a hall separated into three parts by four columns. It was designed in the style of the sculptures of the 7th century and the big altar was situated in the eastern part of the middle column. The altar resembled a small dome-like belfry which was stuck in the hall with its walls and a part of the dome, but at the same time it differed with the way its stones were laid. The inside part of altar also resembles a separately built chapel in the style of the 13th-14th centuries constructions. It is not by chance that the eastern altar had a particular name St Holy Mother. Yervand Shahaziz referring to Charden’s notes wtites about St Holy Mother church that the foreign traveler called it “Catovik” (Yer. Shahaziz, Old Yerevan, Yerevan,2003,page 208). Linch, while speaking about Yerevan churches particularly notes that St Catoghike is the oldest church in Yerevan. (T. Hakobyan, Yerevan history from the ancient time till 1500, Yerevan, 1969, page 269). H.Shahkhatunyants also gave the description of the church and mentioned that the earthquake of 1679 destroyed not only this but many other churches and constructions. (T. Hakobyan, Yerevan history of 1801-1879, Yerevan, 1959, page 248). Catoghike church was also destroyed because of the earthquake and restored in 1693 and this fact is witnessed by the records engraved on the khachkar on the eastern wall which said “This cross stone is the memory of Aghmal the son of Ohanis,1693 (Yer. Shahaziz, Old Yerevan, Yerevan, 2003, page 208).

The clarification of th starnge features of the double name and construction of St Holy Mother-Catoghike was carried out in 1936-1937 when the church was destroyed ( NA, f. 1063,l.1, b.315,b.384) because of the construction of the school for boys (school after 26 commissars, NA, f.1063,l.1,b.384). From the beginning to the end the process of demolition was carried out under control of archaeologists led by K. Ghafadaryan. As a result of demolition a small church with a dome in the middle dated 12th-13th centuries was opened in the eastern part-St Holy Mother, which being included completely in a church built after the earthquake of 1679 became its main altar and kept its name. it is a construction of 13 m height,7,5 m length and 5,35 m width the solidity of which was due to the specific of the stones laying: the edges of the stones don’t adjoin with one another, they are laid back and forth and fit well particularly in the part of the dome. Concrete and lime mixture was used; to provide the solidity of the dome, its lightness and sound resonance empty jugs were inserted into some parts of the dome. Up to the 17th century the walls of the church were empty, later they were covered with plaster and as a result of this the beautiful architectural details were hidden(NA,f.1063,l.1,b.315). In the 17-19 centuries the murals representing Apostles Paul and Peter, St Sargis and St Gevorg, Virgins Hripsimeh and Gayaneh were painted on the eastern wall and each had a corrsponding records, which in accordance with K. Ghafadaryan assessment, “were far from being works of art” (NA,f.1063, l.1,b.315). With its architectural idea the construction it corresponds to thе 13th century, with its plan, form of windows,hollows, details of the upper part it resembles the church in Alayaz village in Vayots Dzor, with its sizes and inside details it resembles St Holy Mother Spitakavor church (NA,f.1063,l.1,b.315). On the southern wal of St Holy Mother-Catoghike church there is a large engraving which witnesses that in 1264 Yerevan paid land and water for a certain Sahmad. This record is a special and important “document” about the past of our city. Taking into account that the construction is one of those scarce survived medieval monuments of Yerevan it was decided to keep it. In 1936 and in 1968 reconstruction activities were undertaken:under the leadership of H. Gasparyan (NA, f.1063,l.1,b.1052,955) the church including the dome, the archs, carnices were repaired, the surroundings were cleaned and well-arranged.

During the deolition of the walls of the big church various khachkars (cross-stones) were found and some of them where kept in the YHM. Within the frames of the days of Armenian Culture held in France in 2007 one of the medieval monuments of Yerevan-the beautifully engraved cross stone (1528) of St Holy Mother-Catoghike were displayed at the exhibition called “My friend Armenia” in the Louvre.(YHM,mm 11555-2, engraved” The holy cross for Gyulaziz,1528”). For many years the church was situated in the yard of the Institue of Language of the Academy of Sciences. In 2008 the building of the institue was demolished with the aim of constructing here the church complex of St Anna and the old beautiful chapel is now seen from every quarter.

Marine Navasardyan
Senior researcher
Archive version