A towering and sky piercing Gandzasar Monastery is an ancient ancestral sepulcher of Khacheni dynasty. It is in Vank village of Mardakert region and is located apposite the hill on the left bank of Khachen river. The Gandzasar Monastery (literally meaning “mountain of treasures”) got its name from the mines of silver and other precious metals garnered in the hill. The construction is rectangular and has a form of a cross inside with all corners being complemented by two storeys annexes. It is known for its rich architectural decoration. Four tall chapiters placed at the base and geometric sculptures in front of the scene adorn the structure.
The Monastery is masterly embellished with bas-reliefs depicting the Crucifixion, Adam and Eve and dozens of other stone figures. Only the cathedral and the narthex have been preserved. The monastery was the religious center due to continuous and concerted efforts of the princes of Hasan Jalal’s ancestry. Gandzasar used to have a rich house of manuscripts, school where valuable manuscripts were created and many religious figures were taught and those figures made a priceless contribution to the development of cultural and intellectual lives not only in Khacheni but also in surrounding areas. The Monastery was first mentioned by Catholicos Anania Mokatsi in the second half of the 10 century.
According to the studies, in 1214 Inner Khacheni or Khokhonaberd principalities were inherited by Hasan (Haykaz) Jalal, the elder son of Vakhtang (Tangik) II and all his ancestors were consequently named after him. He was given various titles in various historical sources, such as ‘The Prince’, ‘Prince of Princes”, Master of Khachen, King Jalal Dola, King Jalal Pious and etc.
According to Kirakos Gandzaketsi, his father being at the death bed bequeathed his son and his wife Khorishan, who was the daughter of the commander-in-chief Sargis Zakaryan of Bagratuni Dynasty the following: “Build a church and a cemetery in our Gandzasar “. In the years of 1216-1238 St. Hovhannes Mkrtich church was built by the initiative of Prince Hasan Jalal, and it was consecrated in 1240 during the Vardavar holiday (The feast of water). Nerses the Catholicos of Aghvank, Vanakan Vardapet, episcopes, 700 priests and many other leaders of the Armenian Apostolic Church attended the ceremony. Mamkan’s glorified husband Jalal tragically died in 1261 and that peaceful period was soon interrupted. Jalal’s wife decided to build the narthex of Gandzasar monastery, where she buried her husband’s body.
The narthex is covered with intersecting arches and its dimensional structure is similar to the chapel of Haghpat monastery and to the narthex of Mshkavank. In 1260 Lavshayi’s son and Georgian king Davit left Tbilisi (Tpghis) under the pretext to save the people of Georgia and to organize a revolt against Tatars. At that time policeman Arghune arrested queen Gontsa, Hasan Jalal, commander-in-chief Zaqare’s son, Shahnshan and others. The redemption was paid to save the captures except for Jalal the Great, whom Arghune made to renounce his faith and took him to Ghazvin (Iran). Since Hasan Jalal didn’t renounce the faith he was severely dismembered and “devoured” by Arghun’s executioners in 1261.
A light was cast upon Hasan Jalal Dola and a Persian, seeing this, believed in the sanity of Jalal and hence collected his body parts and kept in a dry well. Ivane Atabakm the son of the martyred Hasan Jalal brought his father relics to his homeland and buried in the narthex of the church built by his mother. Jalal’s the Great tombstone is still located in the narthex of Gandzasar monastery. The role of the center of liberation movement was maintained until 1815, when by the order of the Russian Tsar Diocese of Gandzasar was ceased to be as such, and was replaced by patriarchy with the Holy See in Shushi.
Gandzasar Monastery became the Diocese of Aghvank in 1400. Israel Ori and Hovsep Emin, the prominent figures of Armenian liberation movement in 16-17 centuries, met with Catholicoses in this monastery. Many valuable books, such as Manteos Monoghon’s collection of stories written in the 15th century which also include the story of Alexander the Great as well as the “Codex of Laws” by Hovhannes Catholicos of the 18th century were written here. According to historical facts, the relics of Hovhannes Mkrtich (John the Baptist), his father Zakaria, Gregory the Illuminator, his grandson Grigoris, doctor St. Pantaleoni and many other martyrs are buried in Gandzasar. In Charles Dili’s opinion, a French expert of Byzantine, Gandzasar is one of the five most interesting monuments of architecture.