Khor virap panoramic

Khor Virap

Khor Virap (lit. "Deep Dungeon") is a renowned Armenian monastery in front of Mount Ararat. The monastery is famous because of the fact that Gregory the Illuminator has been imprisoned in its dungeon for 13 years. Consequently, he was released and embarked on spreading Christianity in Armenia making it the first Christian country in the world in 301 AD. More than 3 centuries later, in 642, the religious leader of the time Nerses the Builder set the foundation of a chapel near the pit where Gregory the Illuminator was imprisoned. Over the centuries construction continued on the site. New churches were built and the old ones rebuilt. In 1662 a larger chapel called "St Astvatsatsin" replaced the old chapel. Besides being a religious center the monastery has served as a national educational center in the 13th century. In 1255 a higher education center was established there with many acclaimed historians, theologians, translators, musicians getting their education in this center. To this day it's a popular pilgrimage site for many worshipers.

The Legend

The legend has it that Gregory was thrown into the pit to die of starvation but he survived there for 13 years and eventually converted the pagan nation into Christianism. Gregory was the assistant of the king Tiridates III of Armenia and was known for his Christian views. That fact didn't please the pagan king so Gregory was ordered to be imprisoned in the pit not far from the capital Artashat. Soon he was forgotten and thought to be dead. Meanwhile Christian nuns Hripsime and Gayane escaped to Armenia to avoid Roman persecution but were captured by the king's soldiers. Hripsime was forced to get married to Roman emperor Diocletian. She was tortured and eventually died because of her refusal to obey. Other nuns also were killed. What ensued was a kind of frenzy that attacked the king. He started to behave like a wild boar and people believed he was possessed by an evil spirit.

King's sister repeatedly saw that same dream telling her that Gregory can cure the king of the maladies that fell upon him. The prince was deputed to bring back Gregory. He was not sure he would find the prisoner alive after so many years of neglect. According to the legend, a religious woman brought a loaf of bread to Gregory every day. Yet another version of it tells us that Gregory miraculously stayed alive thanks to his prayers. Anyway, Gregory was brought to the king and cured him of his ailments. Kind Tiridates, now assured of the power of Christianity, adopted it as a state religion in 301 AD. Gregory later became a bishop and acquired the epithet Illuminator.