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 August 29, 2003 

Centuries of Sacredness: Anniversary of Echmiadzin to be commemorated with "Chronicles"

Portraits of the apostles gained the attention of early travelers.

For 1700 years Cathedral bells have chimed a message that all sainted roads of the Christian Faith lead to Echmiadzin.

A celebration of various events over the next few months will mark the anniversary of tradition's story: the miraculous apparition of Grigor the Illuminator. According to legend, St. Grigor saw a vision of Jesus Christ holding a golden hammer and commanding that a church be built on the place that is now Echmiadzin.

In 303, Echmiadzin (meaning "the place of the Only Begotten Son of God") became the center of the Armenian Church, two years after Armenia became the first nation to adopt Christianity as the State religion.

These days Echmiadzin is a tourist spot. But traveling to the Holy See is not a new phenomenon. For centuries, it has been the destination of pilgrims, a stop-over for tradesmen on the Silk Road, and a source of research for proselytizing missionaries.

Many of those travelers recorded their impressions in books and travelogues. And to commemorate Echmiadzin's anniversary, those articles are being collected by Archbishop Mesrop Ashjian in a book to be called "The Echmiadzin Chronicles".

Travelers mention a Tibetian bell, but author Archbishop Ashjian says he hasn't found traces of it.

"Visitors have come to Echmiadzin for thousands of years," the Archbishop says. "William Ruysbrock visited this place in the 13th century. He tells about Echmiadzin, Ararat and Noah's Ark in his memoirs."

Gathered from sources in French, English and German, the chronicles reveal a place were guests were mostly well received, and where many traditions of contemporary hospitality were also a part of ancient Armenian life in Echmiadzin.

"For me it was interesting what induced these people to visit Echmiadzin," the Archbishop says. "What did they see here? And finally what impressions did they take away after leaving the place?"

The search for travel stories sent Archbishop Ashjian on a journey of his own, looking for articles in libraries and museums in New York, Paris and Yerevan.

He says he started his work from several French travelers, who were followed by the Germans in 1400. And he found that the flow of visitors sharply increased in the 1600s.

"Trade routes passing through Armenia during that historical period become stronger," the Archbishop says. "Merchants from Aleppo and Izmir used to visit Yerevan and after that they continued their way to Tavriz, Ispahan, India and China. On their way to Yerevan they always visited St. Echmiadzin."

Collecting the stories took eight months and hold the impressions of 90 foreign guests.

"In their memoirs foreigners tell about things that are not mentioned by Armenian authors," says Archbishop Ashjian. "They help to understand and appreciate your own country and people better."

In their memoirs many visitors compliment the Armenians for their devout religious faith and for their hospitality. Some write about meeting various Catholicoi.

The Holy See has for centuries been a destination for pilrims and for tourists.

Archbishop Ashjian says his collection (including an introduction he is writing) should be of historical and ethnological value. It will be about 800 pages and include 90 color photographs and 100 black-and-white. He plans to have the book ready by September 15, when official commemorations begin.

"The Echmiadzin Chronicles" will also present many travelers' opinions and impressions of Ararat, and the mountain's connection to Echmiadzin.

"According to tradition, when patriarch Noah went down from Ararat Mountain he built an altar on the place where Echmiadzin is now, and made the first sacrifice," the Archbishop says. "I don't think there is a place in the world that can be as holy as Echmiadzin. Echmiadzin has a symbol. Echmiadzin is mystical."

With special tenderness the Archbishop tells about Italian traveler Francesco Careri, who visited Armenia on May 26, 1694. In his memoirs he writes about the beauty of one flower, which he saw in Talin. Three hundred years later Archbishop Ashjian decided to try to find that flower. On May 26 of this year, a long search lead him to a spot near St. Christopher monastery, where he found that flower, 309 years after the Italian described it.

"The nature of Armenia has been holding this flower in embrace for more than 300 years," the Archbishop writes. "The flower is devoted to its land and the land, in its turn, is loyal to the flower. St. Echmiadzin is also a child of this land like this flower. Let us be faithful to our Church and let us love Echmiadzin."


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