Church of St. Astvatsatsin

This is the central portal and West façade of the Church of St. Astvatsatsin in Noravank, Armenia. The church is apart of a larger religious complex, a monastery. The entire structure was made from a cream or light tan colored stone bricks. This façade has two portals in it; one goes into the main part of the building and the other to the oratory. The most eye catching features here are the sets of stairs that begin on the outer edges of the façade and meet directly in middle at the oratory door, directly overhead the main portal. This design is not only practical, but it also leads one’s eye to the center where the two doors are as well as sculpture.

The highest sculpture is a cross, which is a shape we see repeated throughout the churches of Christendom, but specifically, this design of this cross flows thematically throughout the building. The artist, Momik, sculpted other crosses for the crypt below the church that essentially have the same design. Below the cross is the tympanum above the oratory door. In low relief, the central figure is the bust of a man with a cruciform halo surrounding his head. He is proportionally larger than the two figures flanking him, suggesting that he is the most important figure of the three. The two flanking figures are in full head-to-toe view; the bust is as long as their entire bodies. They also have halos, though smaller to match the proportion of their heads, and are each holding out a scroll towards the center. The central figure is identified by the inscription on either side of his head as “Isus Kristos” or Jesus Christ.

Around the tympanum and oratory doorway, the façade is decorated with a complex linework pattern, visually similar to Anglo-Saxon metalwork from the 7th century. Unlike that particular art style, animals are not hidden in the flowing lines, but rather stand out in higher relief than the pattern around them. Two birds, one on each side of the oratory door’s tympanum, are a repeated design choice on this façade.

The central portal’s tympanum has very similar in design. The main figure is a woman enthroned, holding a small child in her lap. The woman’s head is slightly bent as she seems to gaze at her child. Both figures also have halos around their heads. This central figure is also marked on either side of her head with an inscription, which reads “Mair Astvatsatsin” (“Mother of God”). She and her child are flanked by two angels that have flowing robes, much like she does, and a pair of body-length wings each.The details of their wings are simple but effective, as are the lines that denote the draping of their garments. Like in the tympanum above the oratory door, they are proportionally smaller than the central figure, denoting that they are less important. They gesture with their hands held out toward the middle, but it is difficult to tell with the weathering damage whether or not they had ever held something up in offering.

There are archivolts on this central tympanum, which makes it seem a bit larger and more important; the design is simple, but it provides a nice transition from sculpted tympanum to patterned wall. The archivolts seem to be made up entirely of scalloped, almost leafy shapes. There is also geometric, low relief sculpture patterning the walls around this main portal. Perched on either side of the tympanum/archivolts is another set of winged creatures, though this time they are not birds. These creatures, with the bodies of birds and the heads of humans, mimic the figures above the oratory tympanum. However, unlike the design above, they are joined by another pair of birds a bit below them, carved a bit more shallowly. This provides a nice sense of depth when looking at the portal as a whole.



Works Cited:

"Armenia." State Magazine, Feb. 2013, p. 49. Academic OneFile, Accessed 4 Apr. 2018.

“Noravank 7: St. Astvatsatsin (‘Burtelashen’), Momik's Memorial Stone. - Momik: Noravank - Armenian Heritage.” Edited by Mother See, Armenian Heritage , Armenia Monuments Awareness Project, 2011,

Winchester Avagyan, Jemma. “Noravank.” IArmenia: Armenian History, Holidays, Sights, Events, 30 Sept. 2017,

Church of St. Astvatsatsin