St. Shoghakat Church
Shoghakat church is a later monument of Echmiatsin’s architectural complex. It was built in 1694 near Hripsime Church, on its western side, in place of an ancient structure to which it obviously owes its size and the composition of the type of the domed hall common in Armenia in the 6th – 7th centuries.
The church sits on the holy site where an unnamed nun following Gayané and Hripsimé was martyred during the time of the conversion of Armenia to Christianity in the year 301 AD. The fifth century Armenian historian Agathangelos wrote that the young and beautiful Hripsimé who at the time was a Christian nun in Rome, was to be forcefully married to the Roman emperor Diocletian. She and the abbess Gayané among other nuns fled the tyrant emperor and left to Armenia.
The pagan Armenian King Trdat received a letter from Diocletian in which he described her beauty. Trdat discovered where the nuns were hiding, and fell in love with Hripsimé and later Gayané. After their refusal of his advances, Hripsimé and Gayané were tortured and martyred separately at the locations of the churches of their names. The remaining thirty-eight nuns were martyred at the location of Shoghakat. The name of the church refers to the ray of light that appeared during the martyrdom of the nun. During the time that Hripsimé was being tortured, Gayané had told her to “be of good cheer, and stand firm” in her faith. King Trdat was to be later converted to Christianity and made it the official religion of the kingdom.
The interior of the building was distinguished by the Iaconicism of its layout and spatial arrangement which was fully perceived upon entry through the only western door. The high octohedral cupola, resting on wallside abutments, emphasizes the main and the best illuminated part of the interior. Architectural details and decoration, which are rather modest, add to the sharpness of the building’s spatial arrangement.
In it, there are no open galleries common in the 17th-18th centuries. The vaulted gallery on the western side, built simultaneously with the church, is a closed premise crowned by a six-column rotund belfry in the middle. The horizontal orientation of the gallery and the open-work architecture of the low-placed belfry create the impression of the church’s interior expanding from the entrance to the top of the cupola and make it look very tall.
The entranceway is a large arched opening in an ornamented frame. The windows and individual parts of the western facade are also ornamented. The ornament is mostly geometrical, sometimes thoroughly detailed and unusual pattern of interlaced hand frames, rosettes and khachkars. This ornamentation has much in common with similar carvings of the bell-towers of St. Hripsime Church and Echmiatsin temple, which makes the decoration of all these structures stylistically akin.
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