Magazine Summer 2008 The Mystery of the Treasure Mountain

20 May 2008, 17:40
1917 |

The Mystery of the Treasure Mountain

In Artsakh, on the top of Mount Gandzasar, which means “Treasure Mountain,” stands one of the most beautiful and mysterious temples in the world. According to the accounts of the thirteenth century historian Movses Kalankatvatsy, the head of Saint John the Baptist is buried at this site. The prior of the monastery, Father Hovaness, supports this claim with stories of miracles performed by the sacred relic.

Gandzasar has been described in many ways – the greatest miracle, the gem of Armenian architecture, a unique and an outstanding work of art, a church similar to a celestial domelike temple. In spite of these accolades, as soon as I saw it from the road through an opening between two hills, I understood how futile are all efforts to capture this majestic sight in words.
While we waited for Father Hovaness, I entered the church itself. The inscriptions on the walls present the most reliable account of its creation:
«In the name of the Holy Trinity; Father and Son and Holy Spirit, my inscription was ordered to be carved. I, God's servant Djalal Dola Hasan, Vakhtang's son, Great Hasan's grandson, ruler of the high and great Artsakh area, King of Khokhonaberd with large regions. Before his death my father bequeathed to me and my mother Khorishah, daughter of the Great Prince of Princes Sargis, to build a church and cemetery for our fathers in Gandzasar, the construction of which we started in the year 765 of Armenian timekeeping (1216 CE) with the help of the blessings of our Creator and when the eastern wall was built above the window, my mother, renouncing high life, for the third time went to Jerusalem, where wearing a hair shirt she spent many years in a hermit's life near the Resurrection Temple's gate. She passed to her rest in Christ on Easter day... and was buried there. We, remembering the many misfortunes lying in wait for us in life, hurried to complete the building and finished through the mercy and blessings of Merciful God in 1238».
Contemporary historians, including Kirakos Gandzaketsi, speak about the construction and consecration circumstances of the temple with admiration. Gandzaketsi writes that Hasan-Djalalyan, «built a pretty church with a dome, a temple for God's Glory... And called it Gandzasar, which stood in front of Khokhanaberd.» As the historian describes it, there were 700 priests among the people present for the consecration ceremony. The church was sanctified in 1240, on the day of the Festival of Vardavar, on the 22nd of July, which was a Sunday in that year.
While I gazed upon the flickering candle flames, Father Hovaness’ wife approached me and whispered, “You can ask the God your innermost desires and He will hear you. It has been tested for centuries – this is a special place, miracles happen here.”
“What kind of miracles?” I asked.
She answered, “The sickly ask for health and are cured. Young unmarried girls ask for husbands and soon are wed. Whoever doesn’t have children asks for a child; later they bring their newborns to be baptized…”
She lit more candles and asked, “What about you? What are you asking for?”
I replied, “I am praying for the safety and health of my four sons. I am asking for peace, so there will be no more war, and no one would experience what I went through…
Treasure Mountain has its secrets. In 13th century historian Movses Kalankatvatzi’s “The History of Aluank” there is a chapter titled, “The True Head of John the Baptist.” This chapter describes how the holy relic was brought to the province of Artsakh and buried in Holy Gandzasar, where the throne of Aluank is located.” The history goes on to tell us how the priceless relic, capable of both curing and consoling ,was moved from place to place. Kalakantvatsi version of the story of the movement states that the Baptist’s head was transported to Iberia, in possession of the brother of Djalal Dola, who was the ruler of Artsakh. In 1211, Djalal Dola visited his brother and asked him to make him a gift of the sacred head, a gift his brother refused to make. Djalal Dola then took the head through force and brought it to Gandzak, in Artsakh, into his family’s tomb. He buried the relic there and built a magnificent, astonishing church at Katoghike dedicated to Jesus Christ and St. John the Baptist. On the day of sanctification of the church Dola named it after St. John the Baptist.

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