The Khor Virap ( in Armenian “deep dungeon”) monastery was originally established in 642 CE.  It did not take on its current and final incarnation until the 17th century. But even before its founding, the former prison site was notable for holding the man who would become Saint Gregory the Illuminator. In a pit for 13 years before he helped turn the country into the first Christian nation.

History Of Khor Virap Monastery

Before attaining sainthood, Grigor Lusavorich imprisoned in a cell at the bottom of a pit dug into an Armenian hillock. For 13 years the man survived by being secretly fed by local Christian women. Then, as the story goes, Lusavorich cured the ruler, King Trdat III, of a disease and subsequently converted the monarch to Christianity. As the king went, so went Armenia. Soon the country was the first officially Christian nation in the world.

After Lusarovich sainted as Gregory the Illuminator, the hill in which he holds for so many years became a popular holy site. The first church sites constructed on the lone elevation beginning in 642 and repeatedly rebuilt since the iconic Surp Astvatsatsin Church. It stands on the site today dates from the 17th century. Despite centuries of architectural turmoil, the pit where Saint Gregory was incarcerated can still be visited. Through the hole to the right of the altar in the St. Gevorg Chapel.

As a religious complex

Khor Virap Monastery continues to be a holy site of the Armenian Apostolic Church and an important pilgrimage location.

Which locals often visit for a baptism or after a wedding to perform a “matagh” or “sacrifice,” often of sheep or chicken. The walled, religious complex also stands before the snow-capped flanks of Mount Ararat.

It’s offering a spectacular view of the mountain and cutting a striking silhouette in and of itself.