155th Birth AND 85th Passing Anniversaries Architect Toros Toramanian (1864-1934) The 7th Century
May 27 , 2020 , 00:31
155th Birth AND  85th Passing Anniversaries Architect Toros Toramanian  (1864-1934)  The 7th Century


“Fortunately the excavations of the ruins of Zevartnots, its dimensions, the style, and all the characteristic details offered so much data for study that today we can say we know the church entirely with all details like it was originally built at that time.”



                                                                                                Father Zaven Arzoumanian, PhD


The Magnum Opus of the Architect

            Undoubtedly Toros Toramanian’s magnum opus is the “reconstruction” of the 7th century Zevartnots Cathedral in Vagharshapat, dedicated to Saint Gregory the Illuminator and to the Angels, who diligently studied the architectural plans and each of the surviving stones fallen 1000 years ago. The Church of Zevartnots, meaning “dedicated to the Angels,” built 1360 years ago in 659 AD, “lived” 300 years only with its unmatched characteristics and was destroyed during the 10th century earthquake. The genius architect did his excavations with the permission of Catholicos of All Armenians Mkrtich Khrimian (1892-1907) and completed them in 1905. The same year he published an extensive article in “Mourj” periodical which was later reprinted in Yerevan in 1978. Toramanian has this description: “On the site the plan of the church is partially intact, which convinced me that the existing stones should be sufficient to reconstruct the entire building.” As referred below, his conclusions have offered Stephan Mnatsakanian the basic historic and architectural data that he used in his large volume “Zevartnots and the Same-style Monuments,” published in 1971. In its kind this publication stands as complete and final, giving all due credit to architect Toramanian.


The Special Volume

            The Academy of Sciences of Yerevan has published in 1971 this valuable volume by Stephan Mnatsakanian referred above about the Catheral of Zevartnots, built by Catholicos Nersess III of Tayk in 659 AD. Our 7th century contemporary historian Bishop Sebeos of the Bagratuni Dynasty is the only one who named the Church “Zevartnots,” whereas the rest have known it as the Cathedral of “St. Gregory the Illuminator” of Vagharshapat, near Dvin, capital of Armenia, where the Catholicosate moved from Etchmiadzin temporarily. The floor plan as the historians have recorded has a round basis with three-story high, indicating the round edifice in its detailed measurements and dimensions. Toramanian’s calculations and the historians’ scant description of the church complement each other.

            Mnatsakanian’s monumental 260-page book contains additional 40 pages of pictures representing all the pieces available to sustain the Church’s original style after Toramanian’s design, praising and speaking highly of architect Toramanian for his unique and final contribution, saying: “Fortunately in 1904 architect Toramanian arrived in Etchmiadzin and started the excavations and saved each stone from disappearance.” The photos at the end of the volume are placed in succession, starting from the ground plan to the fallen stones, and the capital pillars with eagles sculptured on each, together witnessing the coming back into “life” of Zevartnots Church for ever. On one of my visits to Holy Etchmiadzin I asked His Holiness Vasken I Catholicos of All Armenians if one day the Church of Zevartnots will also be rebuilt like the other fallen churches after Toros Toramanian’s findings. The Catholicos said: “The Zevartnots ruins stand irreplaceable on their original site as they are, even though without being built. They exist as we have them, and will be preserved as they are.”


Historic Evidences

            None of our historic monuments is described with great amazement and highest praises by our medieval Armenian historians than the Church of Zevartnots. Those evidences verify the Church’s existence up to the first quarter of the 10th century. Historian Bishop Sebeos, a contemporary of the construction, says that “it was built high and amazingly superb, worthy to the glory of God.” Tenth century historian Catholicos John Draskhanakertsi describes Zevartnots as “the all-glorious large church with a variety of high elevations.” Another contemporary historian Movses Daskhurantsi repeats “the all-glorious church with variety of structures.” The same characteristics are given by historians Stephen Taronetsi Asoghik and Mkhitar Ayrivanetsi who confirm “the church that amazes the whole world ” by Catholicos Nersess III (641-661).


The Architect Johanna

            Architect Toros Toramanian has discovered an eye-catching sculpture on one of the arches with a human figure on it wearing the hood of a celibate priest, a spade in his one hand and a mattock in the other, and on his head written “JOHANNA” who undoubtedly, he says, was the name of the genius architect of Zevartnots Church. The seventh century historian Bishop Sebeos is the eyewitness who actually was present while the church was under construction. He gives us the exact location in his “History of Heraclius,” saying “Nersess built the Church of Zevartnots on the road where, they say, King Terdat III welcomed St. Gregory.”  We know from our past history that after the adoption of Christianity as a national religion in 301 AD, St. Gregory the Illuminator was sent to Cappadocia to be ordained Bishop and return as the First Bishop of Armenia. Upon his return King Terdat III welcomed him with great celebrations on the road in Vagharshapat where later St. Zevartnots church was built.

            Toramanian is amazed at the knowledge of architect Johanna in many areas whose “artistic taste is witnessed by the refined and attractive sculptures.” Finally, Toramanian states: “The way the architect has placed the niches and the arches so marvelously that nothing short of surprise can one express on the architect’s talent and knowledge.” Before arriving Vagharshapat, Toramanian had visited to see the ruins of Ani, capital of the Bagratuni kingdom, for excavation where he met archeologist Nigolaos Marr. He was deeply impressed with sadness and admiration.


Catholicos Nersess III Tayetsi

            The Catholicos who built this magnificent edifice in the 7th century was leading the Armenian Church during the Emperor Constance II and the invasions of the Arabs into Armenia in 643. He was under the pressure from both sides, on the one hand the Greeks demanding doctrinal submission of the Armenian Church into Orthodoxy, and the Arabs on the other to submit Armenia to their political dominion since there was no state since the fall of the Arshakouni dynasty. The Arabs offered recognition to Prince Theodoros Rshtouni instead as the governor of Armenia within the Byzantine Empire.

            The Emperor’s ill intention was shown by his personal invasion with an army into Dvin, capital of Armenia in 653, forcing the Armenians to submit to their religion demanding the imposition of the doctrine of the Council of Chalcedon of 451 that was not accepted by the Armenian Church. He forcefully had a Greek priest celebrate liturgy in the Armenian Cathedral, not to be confused with Zevartnots which was not completed as yet until later in 659, and all Armenians present, the Catholicos, the bishops, and the faithful receive Holy Communion and thus submit once and for all. The incident is recorded by the same eye-witness historian Bishop Sebeos who was in the Cathedral and refused to receive communion, while all the rest headed by Nersess III did. Naturally that was a futile attempt.

            The Greeks even tried to label the church under construction a Greek oriented church, considering the Armenian Prince Theodoros Rashtouni’s political orientation toward them as a favorable position who, from political standpoint did not care to see any difference between the two churches. Looking through the historian’s witness accounts defending otherwise the “magnificent” new church as indeed it was, everything else, political and religious, remained insignificant. The ruins today speak for themselves.


Catholicos Nersess Exiled

            Tensions from all sides encouraged both the Emperor and the Armenian Prince to accuse Catholicos Nersess III and send him into exile, away from his Patriarchal Holy See to his birthplace, the district of Tayk, where he stayed for six years. We learn the confirmation of his exile from historian Catholicos John Draskhanaketsi that “Anastas was appointed to keep the Holy See as the overseer of the wonderful church by the orders of Nersess, while he was persecuted in the district of Tayk.” Upon his return from the exile, Catholios Nersess consecrated the already completed Cathedral of Zevartnots in 659.

                Historian Sebeos reports that “following his six years of exile, Nersess returned to his seat and installed Catholicos of Armenia. He hastened to finish the construction of the church which he built on the main road of the city of Vagharshapat.”   Nersess III passed away in 661, and Anastas succeeded him on the patriarchal throne as Catholicos Anastas I Akorretsi, adding that “Nersess’ body was laid to rest in the northern side of the glorious church which he himself built.”