Armenian Cross Stone

Armenian Cross Stone

Almost all Armenian religious buildings are decorated with an Armenian cross stone. On the walls of many churches, you can see carved images of the cross, which have their special meaning. Small crosses were depicted in honor of the patrons and benefactors, by whose efforts the church was built. Armenians respected and worshiped the cross so much that this symbol inspired the stone masters to create these unique works of art, which received a name that was consonant with their content – cross stone (khachkar).

You can find cross stones in almost every corner of the Armenian world. They are never repeated. The main purpose of the cross stone is to establish a connection with God.

The Origin of Cross Stones

The cross, as a symbol, has arisen within Armenians since the 4th century. In the 4-7 centuries, the images of cross stones were still primitive. Starting from the 7th century, winged cross-stones appeared, very few of which have survived to this day. After the 8th century, people started to create cross stones with rectangular base. From the 11th century, the concept of Armenian cross stone, known today, has been formed. This type of khachkar includes all geometric and plant elements. Later on, cross stones started to depict graphic elements, such as images of saints.

Armenian cross stone

Armenian cross stone

Another hypothesis associated with the emergence of cross stones was the desire of people to have more silent proofs about Christianity. Therefore, the installation of crosses was a fairly influential way of spreading Christianity.

There are many reasons for creating cross stones. There are cross stones erected in honor of some kind of victory. There are cross stones installed on the roads. There are also “Savior” cross stones.

The Illustrations on Cross Stones

Armenian khachkars are rectangular monuments that are installed in the courtyard of the church, in memory of the adoption of Christianity, national holidays or martyrs.

The craftsman himself chooses the style and images of the cross stone. The main raw material of cross stone was yellow-reddish tuff. First, a cross was engraved, and then it was decorated with images of national symbols – grapes and pomegranate.

Craftsmen often engraved the infinity sign at the bottom of the khachkar, which is also considered one of the spiritual symbols. Together with the cross, it symbolizes the continuation of life and national beliefs. The most unique element of the khachkar is its symbol of infinity.

Armenian cross stone

Armenian cross stone

There are 5 important and sacred points on cross stones. Four of them correspond to the edges of the wings of the cross, and one is the point of their intersection. The intersection point was the most important point on the cross. In ancient times, it was called “ak”, which can be translated as a source. The upper part is called the crown; it symbolizes the kingdom of heaven. The bottom point symbolizes the fall of hell. The right side was associated with the distribution of graces, and the left – with the forgiveness of sins.

The most important part of the establishment of cross stones is their anointing. First, the center of the cross is blessed, then the crown, which is the upper part of the cross stone, then the right and left sides, and at the end the lower part. Anointing is carried out by special sharakans (Armenian Church hymns).

All Savior Cross Stones

Over the thousand-year history of this craft, numerous khachkars were created. However, only four of these many khachkars depict Christ. These khachkars mainly depict scenes of the crucifixion and descent of Christ. They are called “All Savior” khachkars. The question is why these monuments were named this way. In the old days, believers were sure that these cross stones could cure various diseases, or protect them from evil. That is why these cross stones have received such significance.

Armenian cross stone

Armenian cross stone

All the most famous All Savior cross stones in Armenia were created within 12 years. The oldest of these monuments is located in Haghpat and dates back to 1273. According to the inscription on the cross stone, it was erected by the bishop of the complex.

Two of the remaining three All Savior cross stones are located in Etchmiadzin. One of them is carved in a wood. It was moved to the Museum of Etchmiadzin from Havuts Tar Monastery. The fourth All Savior cross stone is located in the village of Dsekh.

Noratus Cemetery

The village of Noratus is located in the Gegharkunik region, 5 km from the city of Gavar. Noratus is one of the oldest settlements in the Gegharkunik region. The rural cemetery is famous for its numerous cross stones. It is also called the khachkar field.

About 1000 cross stones were erected here. The oldest of them dates back to the 9th century, but most cross stones are from the 13-14 centuries.

Armenian cross stone

Noratus Cemetery

According to legend, the large army of the Seljuk Turks goes against the army of Armenian king Gegham. The Armenian army was small, and the king ordered them to put uniforms on the cross stones. From afar, the Seljuk army thinks that the Armenian army is very large. They panic and run away. Thanks to this, Armenian army wins.

Cross stones of Julfa

Julfa was one of the oldest and major cities of Historical Armenia. It was located in the territory of Ernjak region of Greater Armenia, on the left shore of Araks river. The city used to have 3000 houses and nearly 9 churches and monasteries. It was also famous for its large cemetery. Traveller Alexandre de Rhodes, who visited Julfa in 1648 said that there were more than 10 000 cross stones standing in the territory of the cemetery. According to some evidences, at the beginning of the 20th century the entire number of the cross stones was 6000, but only 3000 of them remained at the end of the century. The oldest khachkars dated back to 9-10th centuries.

Cross stones of Julfa

Cross stones of Julfa

Cross stones of Julfa stood out not only from the oldest samples but also from the ones that were created at the same time in nearby territories. First, the length of the cross stone surpassed its width 3-4 times. Second, the stone did not narrow at the bottom and did not have a pedestal. On the cornices of those cross stones people often depicted Jesus, the Evangelists and Holy Mother. On the lower part of the stone, there might be the image of the deceased and the epitaph.

However, from 1998 to 2005, the mass destruction of khachkars in Julfa began. In 2005 by order of the Azerbaijani government, all 3000 standing khachkars were destroyed and turned into building materials.

One year after the final destruction of the cross stones of Julfa, here in Armenia people started to restore them. Nowadays there are many copies of the cross stones of Julfa, which are placed in church yards and in different parks. 20 copies of such khachkars are now located in Gyumri.

Over time, the Armenians created and erected about 50 000 cross stones, although many of them today are not so stable and integral. Due to enemy attacks, disasters and atrocities, part of them was destroyed, and the rest remains in danger.

In 2010, “Armenian cross stone art, symbolism and craftsmanship of khachkars” was included in the UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

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