According to the Gospel of John, Jesus was stabbed in his side by a lance whilst hanging from the cross. As a result, this weapon is believed to possess supernatural powers, and became an important and much sought after Christian relic.
Over the centuries, a number of churches have claimed to possess this sacred object. One such claimant is the Geghard Monastery, or Geghardavank (meaning ‘Monastery of the Spear’).
The Geghard Monastery is located in Kotayk, a province in the center of Armenia. Situated at the head of the Azat Valley, the monastery is surrounded by towering cliffs. In fact, part of the monastery is carved out of the adjacent mountain. According to tradition, the Geghard Monastery was founded in the 4th century AD by St. Gregory the Illuminator.
The site where St. Gregory chose to build the monastery was a spring arising in a cave that was regarded as sacred prior to the arrival of Christianity. Thus, the Geghard Monastery was known in earlier times as Ayvirank (meaning ‘Monastery of the Cave’)
Nothing remains of this first monastery, as it was destroyed in the 9th century AD by the Arabs. At the end of Muslim rule in Armenia, however, the monastery was re-established. The most ancient part of the present monastery is the Chapel of St. Gregory the Illuminator. The earliest inscription on its external wall has been dated to 1177 AD. This small chapel is located to the east of and outside of the main monastery complex.
Carved directly into the rock of the mountainside, this project was abandoned before it was completed. By the first half 13th century, another building project was underway, thanks to the patronage of the brothers Zakare and Ivane, who were generals of the Georgian queen, Tamar.
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