From stunning landscapes to sites of historical and cultural importance, monasteries provide a wealth of interest for the avid traveller. Here is our selection of the six best monasteries in Europe.Read more...
Goshavank - A view from our expert author
Examine the intricate carvings at Goshavank Monastery © Adrian Chan
Goshavank was established in the late 12th century by the cleric Mkhitar Gosh (1130–1213) with the support of Prince Ivan Zakarian to replace the monastery of Getik, about 20km further east, where he had previously worked but which had been destroyed in an earthquake. Originally called Nor (‘New’) Getik, it was renamed in honour of its founder immediately after his death. The earliest part of the complex, the Mother of God Church, dates from 1191; its gavit was completed in 1197 followed by the two St Gregory chapels, the free-standing one with its particularly fine carving in 1208 and the one attached to the gavit in 1237. The library and the adjacent school buildings were built in 1241 of large rough-hewn stones.
In 1291 the Holy Archangels Church with bell tower was added on top of the library, access to the church being via the external cantilevered steps. The belfry later collapsed and the building is now protected by a conical transparent dome. At its peak the library held 1,600 volumes until Mongol invaders set fire to it in 1375. It was at Nor Getik that Mkhitar Gosh first formally codified Armenian law (partly as a defence against the imposition of Islamic sharia law) and also wrote his fables which make moral points using birds as the protagonists.
One impressive feature of the Goshavank monastery is the particularly fine khachkar by the door of the 1237 St Gregory chapel.
Another feature of the monastery is the particularly fine khachkar, by the door of the 1237 St Gregory chapel, which dates from 1291. Poghos, its sculptor, carved two identical khachkars for his parents’ graves and the other is in the History Museum in Yerevan. The delicate filigree of his carving led to his sobriquet Poghos the Embroiderer. The two small rooms to the south of the gavit were used as studies by religious students. There is again a walnut tree, at the north of the site, and of similar age to the monastery.
Mkhitar Gosh spent the last years of his life as an ascetic in a retreat at some distance from Nor Getik. Although it was normal for founders to be buried at the monastery they had established, he requested that this should not be done and a mausoleum was built away from the site.
In the grounds of the monastery is a small museum (open: 09.00–17.00 Tue–Sun; AMD500). By far the most interesting items there are large pottery bell-shaped objects which were hung from the dome with the open end downward to try to improve the acoustics by reflecting sound back downward into the church. The solution to the problems of some more recent concert halls such as the Royal Albert Hall, London, was clearly anticipated at Goshavank! After the monastery has been explored a variety of refreshing herbal teas, made with local mountain herbs, can be enjoyed on the veranda of the village’s hotel.