Saint Gayane Church: Exploring Armenia’s Religious Capital City

Saint Gayane is a 7th-century church located in the city Etchmiadzin, which is considered to be the religious capital of Armenia

What you’ll find in this article

  • A brief history of the Saint Gayane Church
  • Prominent Armenian historian Agathangelos’ account
  • Practical information for visitors
  • Where is the Saint Gayane Church?

During my trip to Armenia, I spent an unforgettable day exploring Etchmiadzin (aka Vagharshapat), which is often called the religious capital of the country. I visited many churches, and Saint Gayane (Surb Gayane in Armenian) was my favorite among the spots I have been to.

Wall paintings on the walls of Saint Gayane Church

A brief history of the Saint Gayane Church

The church was built in 630 by Catholicos* Ezra I, who was the patriarch of the Armenian church. It is located at a 15-minute walking distance away from central Etchmiazdin. Like many other religious complexes in Armenia, Saint Gayane Church offers a beautiful view of Mount Ararat which is considered holy by the Armenians.

*Catholicos: the Patriarch of the Armenian Church

Saint Gayane was an abbess who was martyred in the year of 301 by the Armenian king, Trdat (Tiridates the Great), due to the fact the she rejected the love he had for her. And 3 centuries later, Saint Gayane Church was constructed at the exact spot where she was martyred.

Inside the church

Along with other historical churches of Etchmiazdin, Saint Gayane was included in the UNESCO World Heritage Sites list in the year of 2000.

Frescoes depicting biblical scenes on the walls of the church

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Prominent Armenian historian Agathangelos’ account

According to the accounts of the Armenian historian Agathangelos, a young and beautiful Roman nun named Hrispime was forced to marry the Roman emperor Diocletian.

Along with Hrispime, Gayane and a group of nuns departed Rome and fled to Armenia. The pagan Armenian king, Trdat, received a letter from the Emperor Diocletian regarding the beauty of the nun Hrispime.

King Trdat found out where the nuns were hiding. As historical accounts suggest, he first fell in love with Hrispime and then with Gayane. After they refused to be with Trdat, he martyred Hrispime at the spot where Saint Hrispime Church stands today and, subsequently, martyred Gayane at the location where Saint Gayane church was later built.

The rest of the nuns, 38 to be precise, were martyred at the spot where Shoghakat Church is found in this day and age. Later on, King Trdat converted the nation to Christianity and became the first Christian king of the Armenians.

As a result, these churches are of great importance for the Armenian church.

Candles inside the church

Practical information for visitors

Since it is an active religious complex, Saint Gayane Church is free to visit.

In front of the church, there is a street where you can comfortably park your vehicle for free.

If you are interesting in learning about the church more, you can try to talk to some priests. As I experienced, a few priests can speak English.

If you don’t have a private vehicle and if you do not want to take public transportation, you can opt for the Yandex Go taxi app, which is safe, reliable and relatively cheap.

More photos from inside and outside the church

Where is Saint Gayane Church?

Argun Konuk
Argun Konuk

A travel & history enthusiast who has been sharing his travel experiences and introducing the unpopular unique places in the world!

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