Armenia Has Some of the World’s Most Enchanting Monasteries


    Getty ImagesBy now you’ve no doubt found a coping mechanism for COVID angst—maybe you fold down into child’s pose, zone out with some deep inhales, or simply pour yourself a stiff drink. Me, I like to close my eyes and conjure up one of the most peaceful places I know: Geghard monastery, in the mountains of Armenia. Some days I can almost taste the air inside, cool and pure and sweet with frankincense. Around me, candles flicker in the dimness against rough-hewn walls blackened by smoke and time. Ethereal harmonies spiral up to the soaring cupola, from which a skylight casts a beam of light that warms my forehead if I stand just so. I’m not religious, but in Armenia’s monasteries, I found a glimmer of divine serenity that followed me home.You’re never far from a church in Armenia, a deeply Christian country bordered by Turkey, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Iran. Today more than 90 percent of Armenia’s citizens—and millions of diaspora Armenians abroad—belong to the Armenian Apostolic Church, an ancient Oriental Orthodox institution that shares similarities with Coptic, Syrian, Ethiopian, Eritrean, and Indian Churches. In fact, Armenia was the first nation to make Christianity its official region, in 301 AD, some 80 years before the Roman Empire did the same. That head start is one reason the country’s most breathtaking Christian sites are also some of the world’s oldest—take, for example, Echmiadzin Cathedral, said to be the first cathedral on earth, completed (in its first iteration) in 304 AD. But you don’t have to know this history—much less follow the Gospel—to be blown away by the buildings themselves, and to find rejuvenating quietude within their walls. Crowned by conical domes that pierce through clouds and tower over forests and meadows, Armenian churches are dramatic, and drool-emoji photogenic, especially viewed from afar. Get closer, and you might spot zoomorphic carvings of suns or grapevines or (long-extinct) Persian lions, holdover motifs from Armenian Zoroastrianism. Step inside, and hypnotically interlaced stone crosses, faded frescoes of wide-eyed saints, and secret nooks and passageways will jump-start your imagination and make you want to go exploring like a kid in a haunted house. Read more at The Daily Beast.


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