The first Christian country in the world

 This Asian country made Christianity become the official religion in 301 AD and this history can still be seen today.
Pious history (Credit: Credit: Rodolfo Contreras)
Pious history
Armenia is a small country in Southwest Asia with a population of only 3 million. But it has a pretty big place in spiritual history: most historians believe that in 301 AD, it became the first nation in the world to accept Christianity.

Today, about 95% of Armenians are Christians, and the country’s moral history can be traced through a number of its ancient monuments and ruins.

The spiritual leader (Credit: Credit: Rodolfo Contreras)
Spiritual leader
According to legend, the first leader of the Armenian Apostolic Church was Gregory the Illuminator, the son of an aristocrat named Anag who assassinated King Khosrov II of Armenia. Gregory’s father was executed for his crimes, but Gregory fled to Cappadocia, where he was bishop of St. Gregory. Firmilian nourish.

As an adult, Gregory returned to his hometown hoping to turn the Armenians – and, by extension, the Armenians – to Christianity. When he learned about Gregory’s return, King Tiridates III, son of King Khosrov II was killed, was arrested by Gregory. The king insisted that his prisoners had renounced Christianity, but Gregory refused. After about thirteen years of imprisonment, Gregory convinced the Tiridates of the power of faith, making themselves religious. And in 301 AD, Tiridates III proclaimed Christianity as the state religion of Armenia.

Traces of the past (Credit: Credit: Rodolfo Contreras)
Traces of the past
Fort Garni is located on a cliff near the Garni village of Kotayk province in Armenia. It was built in the 1st century AD by King Tiridates I, the temple in the fortress before the spread of Christianity in Armenia and is said to have been built for a solar god in Armenia myth.
Many Pagan temples were destroyed when King Tiridates III proclaimed Christianity as the official religion of the state, but Garni was one of the few survivors. Today it is a symbol of Armenian anthropology, and receives over 136,000 visitors every year, making it one of the most popular tourist destinations in Armenia.
Church of a saint (Credit: Credit: Rodolfo Contreras)
Church of a saint
Armenia of Yerevan is Vagharshapat, a city known as the ‘holy capital’ of the country. Located here: St. Gazeane (pictured); Built in 630 and now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, St Gayane was built on the abode of Abbess Gayane, who was murdered by Tiridates III for having become a Christian before converting. Gayane was named a saint by the Church of Armenia; Her star is under Gayane.
A former dungeon (Credit: Credit: Rodolfo Contreras)

A former dungeon

Khor Virap is a monastery located in the Ararat Plain in south-east Armenia, where Tiridates III imprisoned Gregory the Illuminator upon his return.

The chapel of Khor Virap was first built in 642 over the dungeon to honour Gregory, and a larger chapel and monastery were added in 1662. Today, Khor Virap is one of the most visited sites in Armenia. Its chapel is a popular spot for marriages and baptisms.

Cave prayers (Credit: Credit: Rodolfo Contreras)

Cave prayers

Northeast of Garni is the Monastery of Geghard. A Unesco World Heritage Site, the monastery was first founded in the 4th Century by Gregory the Illuminator following the Christianisation of Armenia, but other structures in the complex date up to the 13th Century. Previously named Airivank, or ‘cave monastery’, some of Geghard’s chambers extend into the adjacent mountain, giving them a cavernous look.

According to the legend, the monastery was named Geghard (which means ‘spear’ in Armenian) around this time, when the spear that allegedly pierced Jesus Christ on the cross was brought to the site. It is said to have been kept in Geghard for 500 years before being taken to Etchmiadzin Cathedral in Vagharshapat, where it remains on display today.

Blessed in war (Credit: Credit: Rodolfo Contreras)

Blessed in war

Zorats Church in Yeghegis, a town in southern Armenia’s Vayots Dzor Province, was built in the 14th Century, when the country was under Mongol control and at war with the Syrian Mamluks. The church consists only of an elevated altar and two side vestries. Due to the altar’s height, historians believe the church was used to bless Armenian soldiers mounted on their horses before they left for combat.

Cemetery of salvation (Credit: Credit: Rodolfo Contreras)

Cemetery of salvation

Khachkars, or stones carved with crosses and floral motifs, were primarily seen as a symbol of salvation of the soul, either living or deceased. First created around the 9th Century, khachkars were often erected in converted Pagan temples as symbols of a new faith. Today, these stones are part of the Unesco list of Intangible Cultural Heritage.

Noratus Cemetery (pictured) in Gegharkunik Province has the largest existing cluster of khachkars in the country: more than 800 stones, each with a unique design. The khachkars in Noratus are some of the earliest existing examples of the art, with some of them dating back to the 10th Century.

An ancient graveyard

An ancient graveyard

Comparable in age and appearance to England’s Stonehenge, Karahunj is located in Armenia’s Syunik Province, south of Yerevan. It covers an area of approximately 7 hectares and consists of tombs, a central ring and rows of megaliths that could date back 7,000 years.

Historians believe Karahunj served as a prehistoric burial ground, as it was common for the dead to be buried in cists and covered with slabs of stone during the Bronze Age. The ring of megaliths has a diameter of up to 45m, with rocks as tall as 2.8m weighing up to 10 tonnes. Around a third of the 223 stones on the site have small, circular holes cutting through the rock, which some scientists believe could have been created for astronomical observation, which would likely make Karahunj the world’s oldest observatory.

                                                                                                      By: Anna Lee