In the vicinity of Small Vedi village and now to the south-west of Lusarat village of the region Ararat, an impeccable Khor Virap monastery-fortress is grandly positioned on the historically sacred Artashat hill in the rear of which one can see a snow-cloaked and divine Masis. The famous pilgrimage site and shrine Khor Virap originated in the 7th century. This magnificent architectural monument from historic Ararat province of Great Hayq became widely known for its dreadful story related to Gregory the Illuminator.
The dungeon (Virap) was a hole full of poisonous creatures where criminals of severe verdicts were thrown. According to historian Agatangeghos and various sources, Tiridates III the Great by persecuting the followers of Christianity, threw Gregory the Illuminator to the royal dungeon in Artashat for disobeying pagan gods, where Gregory the Illuminator inspired by the faith had endured the severe tortures for nearly 14 years. By coming out of Khor Virap (deep dungeon) and by having the king’s direct support, in 301 Gregory the Illuminator proclaimed Christianity as a state religion in Armenia and it happened for the first time in the world. Henceforth, the religion was named Gregorian in honour of the first Armenian Catholicos’s name.
In about 642 Catholicos Nerses III initiated a construction of a chapel on the sacred site of the dungeon, which was described by the 10th century Arab historian al-Mukaddasii as a substructure in white limestone with 8 central circular columns inside. This building is an analogy of a unique Zvartnots monument. Later, as typical of the Armenian history to have a thorny development, the building was partially damaged by the sieges of external forces. But in 1662 on the site of the ruins another cozy chapel was built, which has been preserved up to this day.
Steep stairs to the right of the main altar of the chapel lead to the basement, where a 4.4 m in diameter and 6 m in depth dome-liked and concave dungeon is shaped. Only a dilapidated and bumpy enclosure of the whole complex was preserved and cells and auxiliary buildings are placed along its walls. Inside the enclosure just in the center is the main and magnificent St. Holy Mother church with a massive bell tower to its west side.
Khor Virap has also been historically mentioned as a center of education and science since the 13th century. It is worth noting the higher school founded in the monastery in 1255 by Vartan Arevelatsi, attended by such honorable pupils such as Esayi Nshetsi, Hovhaness Erznkatsi, Nerses Mshetsi and others. Holy Mother Church was built in limestone slabs and delicate sculptures on the excavated dungeon in 1669 to replace the chapel of the 14th century.
The central part of Holy Mother church was completely renovated in 1703, whereas the bell tower which is next to the church and is ornamented with colonies was renovated at the end of the 19th century. In 1970-80-ies by the initiative of Vazgen I Catholicos monastery enclosures and other structures were brought to the appearance we can now indulge.