Gandzasar monastery was a prominent religious center. It is also considered as one of the best models of Armenian architecture. The mountain on which the monastery was built is called Gandzasar, meaning 'treasure mountain', because of the silver and other precious metal mines that lay inside. The monastery had rich manuscript center, seminary, fortifications built in the 13th century,
dining hall (1689) and two-story school building (1898).
St.Hovhannes Mkrtich church of Gandzasar was founded by prince of Khachen, Hasan-Jalal Dola in 1216-1238. It was the seat of Aghvan catholicoses. Jalalyans' family mausoleum was built inside the gavit. St.Hovhannes Mkrtich is one of the only churches that had God's sculpture carved on its dome. The church is decorated with many
other valuable sculptures.
The church is named after St.Hovhannes Mkrtich because his head is buried under the altar. According to a legend, after Hovhannes Mkrtich was beheaded his students buried his body. Then a vision comes to the martyrs where Hovhannes Mkrtich points to the place where his head is. Martyrs dig and find the head.
According to another legend, the saint's head e
nds up in a poor man's hands. The man takes the head home where he heals many sick people.
Together with his brother Hasan Jalal Dola goes on pilgrimage to Jerusalem and meets a group of catholics who carry boxes of relics to the Bishop of Rome.
When they are getting ready to sleep at night, two angels come to Hasan Jalal Dola, point to a box with relics and tell him, 'Take these rel
ics to your country and built a new church in your land instead of the old wooden one, and put the relics in the fundament. Name it St.Hovhannes Mkrtich because this is his head.' They take the relics and bring them back. Argument arises between two brothers over the relic as it was very powerful – could heal the sick and make the infertile pregnant. In the end they agree that the elde
r brother Hasan Jalal Dola prince takes the head of Hovhannes Mkrtich, blood of Hovhannes Mkrtich father Zakaria, and holy relics of Grigor Lusavorich, Grigor Lusavorich's grandson Grigoris, saint physician Pantaleon and other martyrs, and starts building the church. 700 clerics bless the church.
The grave of Jalal the Great is located in the gavit of Gandzasar monastery.
In 1260 J
alal the Great was arrested, being forced to abjure, and was taken to Iran. Hasan Jalal stayed true to his faith and was dismembered for that in 1261. Light came down to Hasan Jalal's body. Witnessing that, a Persian man believed that the martyred was a saint and collected the parts of the body to hide it in a well. Hasan Jalal's son brought the relics of his father back to the homelan
d and laid them inside the monastery's gavit.
Gandzasar's monastery played an important role also in the fights for freedom. In the 17-18th centuries Gandzasar's catholicoses supported Gharabagh's melikdomes (melik is similar to duke) in their struggles for liberation. In the beginning of the 18th century the leaders of the liberation movement of Artsakh and Syunik were centered aro
und catholicos Esayi Hasan-Jalalyan. In church's gavit, together with the catholicos, Israel Ori wrote the famous letter to the Russian emperor Peter I in which they expressed a wish to join Russia. At that time Artsakh had 300 active churches. In 1828 the catholicosate ceased to exist. Later it became a episcopate which existed until 1933. Only in 1989 as ordered by Vazgen catholicos
Artsakh episcopate was reopened and Gandzasar monastery became the first church to be blessed.
In 1992 Azerbaijani army invading NKR destroyed the eastern buildings of the monastery that were renovated in 1993-1998. It is said that God's will took away all the shells and bombs; they blew up only the monastic building. Later, when the it was being cleaned, cross-stones were found. Va
rdapet embalmed those inside the walls in order to save them from the Persian raids.
During the war Azeri did everything to destroy the church but didn't manage to do so. In the summer of 1992 Shahumyan and Martakert regions were bombed, but the shootings couldn't stop Armenian soldiers. It is said that during the holy liturgy the bombings were so intense that the prayers couldn't b
e heard, however the ceremony didn't stop. There is an unexploded shell in the church's wall. Azerbaijani planes threw a few shells in the monastery's direction and there was a terrible gunfire in this area, however the church wasn't damaged. Few shells entered into the church's defense walls, but didn't explode and only one can be seen inside the wall now.
According to another lege
nd when Azerbaijani army was bombing the monastery the church's acolyte stayed inside, praying on his knees. At that moment angels appeared by the sides of the holy table. They said that the monastery is protected and that there was no reason to be afraid. Their traces can still be seen at two sides of the holy table.