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Amaras Monastery, Sos

Amaras Monastery is located in Sos village, in the Martouni district of Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (Artsakh`s historical province Myus Haband). According to the historian Faustus Byuzand (Faustus of Byzantium) the first church of the monastic complex was founded by Gregory the Illuminator. Its construction was finished by his grandson bishop Grigoris who was killed in 338 and buried in Amaras.

At the beginning of the 5th century Mesrop Mashtots, the creator of Armenian alphabet, opened the first Armenian school in Amaras which gave urge for spreading Armenian language. Since then Amaras became one of the largest religious and cultural centers of Armenia.

In 489 Aluank king Vachagan III the Pious found the tomb of St. Grigoris, built a chapel there and restored the church. During its long history the monastery was plundered and destroyed several times by Arab and Mongol raids, including that of the Mongolian hordes headed by Tamerlan (1387). During another Mongol invasion the monastery lost a large number of its treasures including Grigoris`s crosier and a golden cross incrusted with 36 precious stones. After each invasion Amaras was restored again and again, but the monastic school never stopped its work. The monastery was completely reconstructed in the second half of the 16th century under the rule of Gandzasar Catholicos Petros.

When Eastern Armenia was joined to Russia in the 19th century, Amaras with strong fortification structure was used as a fortress. It was in the 18th century when melik Shahnazar II of Varanda built high fortification walls around the monastery in order to make it inaccessible. There were 4 round turrets at the corners of the walls and the only entry in the south-eastern wall. It opened to a utility yard with two-stage fortification structure.

When the monastery was returned to the Armenian Apostolic Church (1848) only ruins were found on the site. It was rebuilt in 1858 on the donations of Shoushi Armenians. In 1898 a tombstone made by the architecture from Shoushi Mikael Ter-Israyelyants was placed in the burial-vault of St. Grigoris.

Amaras monastery, as well as a large number of other historical monuments, suffered a lot during the Karabakh war from the Azerbaijani artillery bombing. When the Azerbaijani troops entered the monastery they destroyed the burial-vault of St. Grigoris. After a while the monastery was again reoccupied by the Armenians and later was reconstructed.

As a result of numerous destructions and further reconstructions the initial design of the church as well as a number of ancient records and architectural details were lost. The church of Amaras monastery during its last reconstruction (1858) was built from white trimmed petrosilex. The church refers to the type of three-nave basilicas. Two pairs of cruciform pillars divide the chapel into three naves. The burial-vault of St. Grigoris - the main shrine of the church is situated under the altar. Its walls are decorated with geometric and plant ornaments which is typical for the early Medieval Armenian decorative art.

By Natalia Ghukasyan,


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