Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo

A famous Armenian monastery, since 1441 the ecclesiastical capital of the schismatic Armenians, and seat of their patriarch or catholicos, whom the greater part of the Non-Uniat Armenian Church acknowledge as their head. It is situated in Russian territory, in the extreme south of the Caucasus, on the River Aras near the city of Erivan. As early as the fifth or sixth century, if not earlier, a monastery existed there attached to the royal residence of Valarshapat, itself the immemorial national centre of Armenia. According to national tradition, more or less reliable, the primatial see of Armenia was founded here by Saint Gregory Illuminator, the Apostle of Armenia, early in the fourth century. On the site of his famous vision of "the descent of the only Begotten One" (Descendit Unigenitus = in Armenian, Etschmiadzin), the anniversary of which is still kept as a national feast, he built a chapel, and in time a splendid church and a monastery arose there, around which centred the national and religious life of Armenia until the middle of the fifth century, when, owing first to the invasions of Caucasian hordes and then to Persian ambition and persecution, there began the long series of wanderings that recall the story of the monks of Durham with St. Cuthbert's body. During these centuries both clergy and people valued most highly the right arm of St. Gregory ; its possessor was practically considered the legitimate patriarch. After many removals, first to Dowin (Duin, Tvin) and then to other places, the patriarchal see was eventually located in the city of Sis, in Cilicia (Lesser Armenia ), where it remained from 1293 to 1441; at the former date the relic was said to have been miraculously brought to Sis from Egypt, whither it had been taken by the Mamelukes. When the small Christian principality of Lesser Armenia, long upheld by the Crusades (1097-1375), was at last destroyed, the national and religious life of its people naturally turned again towards the earlier venerable centre, in Northern or Greater Armenia. After the death, at Sis (1440), of Patriarch Joseph II, irregularities occurred in the election of the new patriarch, Gregory Musapekian, which northern bishops were willing to overlook if he would transfer his see to Greater Armenia. On his refusal a new election was held at Etschmiadzin where, it is said, about seven hundred bishops and archpriests ( vartapeds ) assembled and elected Kirakos Virabetzi, with whom begins the series of patriarchs of Etschmiadzin. By some stratagem the monastery is said to have secured from Sis the possession of the famous relic of St. Gregory . A patriarchal succession, however, was, and is still, maintained at Sis, where what purport to be the selfsame relics are shown and venerated. There are, moreover, Armenian (schismatic) patriarchs at Aghtamar, Jerusalem (1311) and Constantinople (1461), the latter for the Armenians of the Ottoman Empire, also an independent Archbishop of Lemberg. Several patriarchs of Etschmiadzin, Stephen V (1541), Michael of Sebaste (1564), David IV (1587), Melchisedek (1593), Moses (1629), Philibos (1633), Agbob IV (1655), and others, took steps towards reunion with Rome, and some made profession of the Catholic Faith before death. Catholic Armenians finally abandoned Etschmiadzin as their religious centre, and obtained a Uniat patriarchate, first at Aleppo (1742), later at Constantinople (1830-667). The Armenians subject to Etschmiadzin underwent bitter persecution when Greater Armenia passed into the power of Persia ; even the right hand of St. Gregory and other prized relics and images of the national apostle, and of King Tiridates and St. Rhipsime, were carried away (1604) to the Persian capital; these were finally restored to Etschmiadzin in 1638. Since 1828 the monastery and its district have passed into Russian hands, whereby the independence of the patriarch has been naturally diminished. He is not, however, subject to the Holy Synod of Russia, but presides over his own holy synod of seven members. In 1836 the Russian Government issued an official constitution for the administration of the Gregorian (i.e. Armenian ) Church in Russia. It comprises 141 articles regulating the election of patriarchs and the ruling of Gregorian dioceses. In 1882 non-Russian Armenians refused to recognize the Russian nomination of the Armenian Archbishop of Smyrna to Etschmiadzin, but in 1884 they yielded. Thus a Russian ecclesiastical functionary residing at Etschmiadzin is, in theory, the "Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of all the Armenians ". Even in fact, the great majority of the schismatic Armenians acknowledge his authority; only a small minority adhere to Sis, Aghtamar, Constantinople, and Lemberg. In the United States, the Armenian Bishop of Worcester is subject to Etschmiadzin, and has as quasi-suffragans the Vartapeds of Boston, New York, Providence, and Chicago. In England, the Vartaped of Manchester is subject to the Armenian Bishop of Paris. Since Kirakos Virapetzi (1441) some thirty-eight successors have ruled at Etschmiadzin, not however without numerous schisms. The patriarchs are often assisted by a coadjutor, or rather co- titular bishop, whose name sometimes erroneously gets inserted in the list of patriarchs proper. The Patriarch of Etschmiadzin alone consecrates the myron (chrism) and also the bishops for the schismatic Armenians. His curia is formed by (a) a patriarchal synod (two archbishops, five archpriests ); (b) a board of administration (one bishop, two archpriests ); (c) an editorial committee (two archpriests and a deacon ). The monastery consists of about twenty monks ; since 1874 a seminary has been maintained for the training of the higher Armenian clergy. Though prominent in a hierarchical sense, as a centre of Armenian literary and theological activity Etschmiadzin ranks far behind Venice, Vienna, Moscow, and Constantinople (see M ECHITARISTS , though of late some life and energy are evident. Etschmiadzin is richly endowed. Externally it resembles a great fortress; within its walls are the monastery proper, the magnificent church dedicated to the Blessed Virgin, and six chapels, one of them said to stand on the site of the apparition of Jesus Christ to St. Gregory. Outside the walls are several churches, among them three dedicated to the earliest Armenian martyrs, St. Rhipsime and her companions and St. Gaiane, hence the Turkish name Ütsch Kilisse (Three Churches). The numerous buildings either restored or rebuilt, date mostly from the last three centuries, and make an imposing appearance. (See A RMENIA ; G REGORY I LLUMINATOR ; S IS .)


More Encyclopedia

The Catholic Encyclopedia is the most comprehensive resource on Catholic teaching, history, and information ever gathered in all of human history. This easy-to-search online version was originally printed in fifteen hardcopy volumes.

Catholic Encyclopedia

Designed to present its readers with the full body of Catholic teaching, the Encyclopedia contains not only precise statements of what the Church has defined, but also an impartial record of different views of acknowledged authority on all disputed questions, national, political or factional. In the determination of the truth the most recent and acknowledged scientific methods are employed, and the results of the latest research in theology, philosophy, history, apologetics, archaeology, and other sciences are given careful consideration.

No one who is interested in human history, past and present, can ignore the Catholic Church, either as an institution which has been the central figure in the civilized world for nearly two thousand years, decisively affecting its destinies, religious, literary, scientific, social and political, or as an existing power whose influence and activity extend to every part of the globe. In the past century the Church has grown both extensively and intensively among English-speaking peoples. Their living interests demand that they should have the means of informing themselves about this vast institution, which, whether they are Catholics or not, affects their fortunes and their destiny.

Copyright © Catholic Encyclopedia. Robert Appleton Company New York, NY. Volume 1: 1907; Volume 2: 1907; Volume 3: 1908; Volume 4: 1908; Volume 5: 1909; Volume 6: 1909; Volume 7: 1910; Volume 8: 1910; Volume 9: 1910; Volume 10: 1911; Volume 11: - 1911; Volume 12: - 1911; Volume 13: - 1912; Volume 14: 1912; Volume 15: 1912

Catholic Online Catholic Encyclopedia Digital version Compiled and Copyright © Catholic Online

Newsletters

Newsletter Sign Up icon

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers

Daily Readings

Reading 1, Revelation 11:4-12
4 These are the two olive trees and the two lamps in ... Read More

Psalm, Psalms 144:1, 2, 9-10
1 [Of David] Blessed be Yahweh, my rock, who trains ... Read More

Gospel, Luke 20:27-40
27 Some Sadducees -- those who argue that there is no ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for November 22nd, 2014 Image

St. Cecilia
November 22: In the fourth century appeared a Greek religious romance on the ... Read More

Inform, Inspire & Ignite Logo

Find Catholic Online on Facebook and get updates right in your live feed.

Become a fan of Catholic Online on Facebook


Follow Catholic Online on Twitter and get News and Product updates.

Follow us on Twitter