Last Saturday afternoon, a bunch of us went to Echmiadzin, the seat of the Armenian Church (often called the Armenian Apostolic Church or, inaccurately, the Armenian Orthodox Church). I'd been there before, but only into the main church and to the office of the church's spokesman for a work meeting. This time, we got a behind-the-scenes tour thanks to Hakob, whose main job is as a guard at the National Democratic Institute office in Yerevan, but who moonlights as an Echmiadzin tour guide.
Our first stop was the main museum, which is closed to the public because its many valuable and sacred artifacts are poorly secured. Lots of neat stuff there, such as this tapestry that was made by diasporan Armenians in China.
I could not for the life of me get a non-blurry photo of it. The most interesting thing about it is that, though its makers were Armenian, Christ, the thieves and his disciples all have Asian faces.
There were lots of very intricately embroidered cloths and tapestries and vestments, like this one:
And of course, no Armenian museum is complete without a paean to the Armenian alphabet:
But the most important artifact in the museum (if it is indeed real), is this fragment of the Cross of Christ. I've never seen one that large, so I admit I have my doubts. But what really bothered me was that, if the folks at Echmiadzin truly believe this is a piece of the Cross, what is it doing in the museum? Shouldn't it be in the church?
So after the museum, we went into the main church ...
... which was built above a pagan fire temple, the ruins of which you can still see on the special tour:
The story goes that Christ came in a vision to St. Grigor Lusavorich (Gregory the Illuminator, credited for introducing Christianity to pagan Armenia in 301 AD), and instructed him to destroy the temple and build a church in its place.