WASHINGTON — On Thursday, June 24, Museum of the Bible will unveil “Ancient Faith: The Churches of Nagorno-Karabakh,” a new virtual exhibit — the first of its kind in the world — honoring centuries of Armenian Christian heritage in that region.
The exhibit documents part of a vital chapter of early Christian history. In the early fourth century, Armenia became the first country to declare Christianity the state religion after Saint Gregory the Illuminator converted King Tiridates the Great. The Nagorno-Karabakh region, where Saint Gregory lived and spread the Christian faith, is home to ancient churches, monasteries and monuments. Centuries later, many of those monuments are at risk of damage, destruction or cultural erasure after the recent conflict with Azerbaijan.
The online exhibit will show the sacred sites of Nagorno-Karabakh, historically known to Armenians as Artsakh. Virtual visitors can learn about the history of these remarkable places, meet some of the people who have lived and worshipped there and hear them tell their stories of faith as part of these ancient communities.
Developed in collaboration with leading scholars of early Christian art, architecture, theology and history in the Caucasus region, “Ancient Faith: The Churches of Nagorno-Karabakh” will highlight seven sites:
- Amaras — The tomb of Saint Gregory’s grandson, Saint Grigoris, one of the oldest surviving Armenian Christian funerary structures.
- Tzitzernavank — An entirely intact early Christian basilica, the first form of congregational Christian architecture.
- Handaberd Mother and Child — An extraordinary “khachkar,” or cross-stone, one of the iconic art forms and symbols of Armenian religion, identity and craftsmanship.
- Dadivank — A religious landmark of profound beauty and a key example of an intact monastic complex from the 13th century.
- Gandzasar — A 13th-century cathedral considered a crown jewel of Armenian architecture that also displays connections with 13th-century Islamic art and shared artistic traditions with the Muslim world.
- Ghazanchetsots — An elegant 19th-century cathedral based on the model of Etchmiadzin Cathedral, the Mother See of the Armenian Church.
- Tzar — A school building constructed during the Soviet period from vandalized and recycled Armenian monuments during the Soviet period.
“The churches, monasteries and sacred sites of Nagorno-Karabakh, as old as the fourth century, tell the story of an ancient faith and culture. Unfortunately, today they are at risk of disappearing in the fight over the future of the land where they were built,” said Dr. Jeffrey Kloha, chief curatorial officer at Museum of the Bible.
“Our new online exhibit will be the first ever to bring a glimpse of these treasures to the West,” Kloha added. “It comes at a vitally important moment when war threatens the survival of a religious and artistic legacy that has existed for centuries.”
UNESCO, Blue Shield International, Smithsonian and the International Council of Museums are among the groups that have called for the preservation of Armenian heritage in Nagorno-Karabakh.
The exhibition will be live on the museum’s website beginning June 24.
To mark the launch of “Ancient Faith: The Churches of Nagorno-Karabakh,” the museum will host an interactive webinar via Zoom on Thursday, June 24, from 12-1 p.m. with esteemed scholars, preservation experts and church representatives. Topics will include the church sites and architecture, the risks they currently face and the need to preserve these irreplaceable churches and material culture.
Christina Maranci, Ph.D. — Arthur H. Dadian and Ara Oztemel Professor of Armenian Art and Architecture and Chair of the Department of History of Art and Architecture at Tufts University. She is the author of “The Art of Armenia: An Introduction,” “Medieval Armenian Architecture: Constructions of Race and Nation” and “A Survival Guide for Art History Students.” She has been a visiting professor at Boston University, the University of Michigan, the University of Chicago and other institutions. She has been a professor at Tufts University since 2008.
Very Rev. Fr. Shahe Ananyan — Director of the Ecumenical Department of the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin.
Jeffrey Kloha, Ph.D. — Chief Curatorial Officer at Museum of the Bible.
The interactive webinar is free and open to the public, but registration is required.