IN SEARCH OF THE HISTORY OF THE EREROUK BASILICA
By: Dickran Kouymjian
It is one of the enigmas of art history that an important monument remains unremembered in the historical sources. This is seemingly the case with the Armenian basilican church called Ererouk. The impressive ruins of this church are located in a deserted area of the Republic of Armenia close by the Akhurian River on the Turkish-Armenian frontier. The site is a few kilometers southeast of the ruined and deserted medieval city of Ani. What little we know of its recent and past history will be presented in this notice.
The plan of the church shows it to have been a basilica and the largest among existing Armenian basilicas. This type of structure was in common use throughout the Roman Empire, in both east and west, as an administrative building with no religious connotations. After the acceptance of Christianity in the fourth century, the basilica was the favorite construction used for large churches, and since a building was found in nearly every city of the Empire, it became a sort of standard type of Christian religious edifice. The plan of Ererouk is similar to a series of Armenian basilicas -- K'asagh, Eghvard, Dvin, Ashtarak (Ciranavor), Cicernavank', Tekor - in that it had an interior composed of three aisles or naves, the central and largest one of which was separated from the others by pillars which also helped support the roof. It differed from them, (except perhaps for Dvin and Cicernavank') by the fact that its central nave had a roof, perhaps of wood, which was higher than those covering the side aisles, thus forming a clerestory. This type was usually termed an Hellenistic Basilica, as opposed to the Oriental Basilica in which all three aisles were covered by a single roof. Though the central roof may have been covered by a wooden roof, the side aisles were vaulted in stone. The use of wood for roofing was totally uncharacteristic of Armenian architecture in this period, but was a common feature of the Hellenistic type basilica found in neighboring Syria.
At the eastern end of the church was the apse, flanked by two lateral chambers. At the western end there were two square tower chambers which were salient to the west and to the north and south respectively. On the north and south side were covered porches, established in the lateral area created by the protruding chambers; they were covered by a wooded roof supported by arches which extended from the pilasters on the wall (still visible on the church today) to disengaged pillars. There were smaller external apses at the east end of each of these porches. At the west end of the area between the two chambers was also covered and had an arcade and a monumental portal entrance. On the south wall were two additional entrances. The whole church was built on a platform -- called a stylobate in classical temple architecture -- of six steps. Some scholars speculate that originally there had been a pagan temple on the site dating from the second or third century A. D.
The architectural evolution of the church from the fifth to the seventh century has been discussed in detail by many specialists, most recently A. Khatchtrian. Our concern is not with tectonic considerations but with the history of the monument. Scholars are divided as to whether it was founded in the fifth or sixth century; there is not a single textual reference to a church by that name in Armenian sources, and the earliest dated inscription on the church is of the eleventh century. Nicholas Marr, the first to devote a monograph especially to the church, was of the opinion that it dated to the end of the fifth or early sixth century. T'oros T'oramanian who accompanied Marr on the first excavation of the church said it had a fifth century foundation. Josef Stryzgowski in his monumental work on Armenian architecture was for a dating in the first half of the fifth century, so also the Italian Cuneo and Alpago-Novello. Haroutyan and Safaryan vote for the fifth century; Krautheimer "near or before 550", Khatchatrian, "avec certitude du Ve siecle et de la considerer peut-etre comme la premire dans la serie des basiliques arméniennes analogues (p.45)", but M. Thierry in a review of Khatchatrian's books says, "L'auteur nous dit bien que l'église, d'après l'inscription, est anterieure au VIIe siecle mais l'argument stylistique qui lui permet de remonter au Ve nous parait demme de fondement, une étude comparative même rapide demontrera aisement que le decor est beaucoup plus proche de celui de monuments syrians du VIe siecle." The only clue beyond comparison of architectural style and decorative motifs with other dated Armenian and Syrian buildings is a Greek inscription on the eastern end of the south facade which, though bearing no date and no other revealing information, is on paleographic grounds to be dated no later than the seventh century. Thoramanian, Marr, Khatcharian and others were also sure that the original structure of the fifth-sixth century underwent changes during the sixth-seventh centuries; this change may have been accompanied by additions in decoration by the use of then current motives which may serve as the source for Thierry's statement on the closeness of the external decoration to the sixth century Syria.
Beyond this we know nothing about Ererouk in the period before the seventh-century Arab occupation of Armenia. The location of the basilica is in the domains owned by the Armenian Kamasarakan family and like the neighboring church of Mren, it was erected by that family. The later church was acquired in the late eighth century (783) by Ashot Msaker, the head of a rapidly rising and rival princely family, the Bagratuni.
That the Bagratuni had possession of Ererouk in the early 10th century is ascertained beyond a doubt by an inscription, yet when and how they took control of Ererouk is still unclear. In fact, there is no evidence about the building during the whole of the Arab period (seventh to ninth centuries) except possibly an undated inscription to the north of the apse in the interior of the ruined church.
The earlier (tenth century) inscription is in part as follows: "I, Yakob (Hakop) the priest who came from the city and plain to this village and this holy martyrdom ( ). . . .renovated (rebuilt) it (i.e. the church of Ererouk) in the name of Karapet (i.e. John the Baptist) and promartyr (Armenian: ):. . . . ." Marr pointed out that the term 'city and plain' (k'aghak u dasht) was employed in Armenian sources of the sixth and seventh centuries and afterward up to the tenth century, but not later. Therefore, the building was restored or rebuilt, probably in the tenth century, or perhaps as early as the sixth-seventh century, thus, if the latter date be accepted it could be an inscription referring to the sixth century changes mentioned above. Of more interest to our immediate problem is the term martyrium (vkayaran) used by Hakob to refer to the structure. In the earlier Greek inscription presented above, the term sanctuary ( ) was used; in neither case was the word church employed. If the church in the tenth or an earlier century was indeed a martyrium, to whom was it dedicated? Since Hakob's reconstruction was in honor of Karapet (presumably John the Baptist, the protomartyr) then the logical and, indeed, with the evidence at hand, the only conclusion is that the church was dedicated to the martyred St. John. But whether in fact the basilica was called St. John before the time of the inscription of Hakob the priest, or for that matter in the period after it, we do not know. Perhaps some day an unidentified church of St.. John the Baptist may be discovered in the sources which could be identified with Ererouk and add to our meagre information.
This brings us to the eleventh century when the whole of the Ayrarat valley and the province of Shirak was in the hands of the Bagratouni family. By 885/7 the new Bagratid Armenian Kingdom was secured and in the tenth century, Ani, a city on the other side of the Akhurian River from Ererouk, became its capital. From the height of the Bagratid period comes our first tangible, unimpeachable evidence, the famous inscription of 1038, which for the first time records the name of the church, or more probably the village in which the church was located. The history of the inscription is indeed the history of the modern discovery of the basilica and its entry as a name in the annals of history and art history. It was N. Shakhatunian who first brought Ererouk into view in the second volume of his work Etchmiadzin and the Surrounding Area published in 1842. Shakat'unian had visited the ruins, measured them, and recorded the inscription found to the top left of the eastern door of the south facade of the church. It was inscribed on three large rectangular stones. It began "In the name of God in the year 487 (of the Armenian Era, which is 1038 A.D.)," and continues, "I the pious Queen, daughter of the Abas, spouse of Smbat Shahanshah and mother of Ashot. who freed the tax (T'astak) of Ererouk (zErervac') for the sons of my son Smbat Shahanshah. . ." Smbat Shahanshah can only refer to Hovhannes-Smbat, Bagratid King of Ani who died shortly after in 1041. We have no other references to his wife or even her name, and do not know about her son Ashot or her other son, Smbat, if the inscription and its reading is accurate. She could have been the daughter of Abas. The drawing of the inscription along with Shankhat'unian's description was published by Alishan in his Shirak and later again by Ep'rikian in his natural geography. Alishan accompanied his short notice on Ererouk with an engraving of the ruins signed by D. Yessayan and his own reading of the inscription. In 1913 Garigan (then Vartapet) Hovsepian published the inscription again, this time with a photograph (after Marr?) which showed that the third and bottom stone on which the inscription was carved was missing from its place. Hovsepian read the date as 477 i.e. 1038, but a careful look at his photo shows the second letter to more like (20) than (70). Most recently Manandyan again gives a partial transcription of the inscription when discussing the term t'astak. As will be seen below the lower broken and damaged stone has been restored to its proper place.
Marr also records a second inscription with the date 1038, but without the mention of any names, carved in the lunette above the same door. Thus it is clear that the church or village called Ererouk had passed by this period into Bagratuni possession. For a century and a half there is no reference to the Basilica. Because of its proximity to Ani, we must assume that it underwent the same fate as that city. In 1045 Ani was finally occupied, after a long struggle, by the Byzantine army. The Armenian King Gagik, a cousin of Hovhannes Smbat, after being tricked into coming to Constantinople while his capital was being seized by imperial troops, received in exchange lands in the theme of Lykandos in Cappadocia. The Byzantine strategy against the Seljuk Turkish invasions of the Near East was to absorb Armenia directly into the Empire and confront the Turks with imperial soldiers instead of the troops of its "unreliable Armenian allies and coreligionists" . The tactic failed disastrously for Byzantium and Armeina alike. In 1064 Ani, its Armenia population and Greek defenders, fell to Sultan Alp Arslan after a bitter siege. A few years later, the Bagratid Kingdom of Kars was also taken by the Turks, again from the Byzantines who had acquired only just before from King Gagik of Kars, for another exchange in land. We must assume that nearby Ererouk also came under Seljuk control. The Seljuks themselves did not keep Ani for long, but sold it to their vassal allies, the Muslim Shaddadids, a family of Kurdish origin, which already had control of Dvin and Ganja. tohere
The twelfth century history of Ani and its environs is one of hostility between the Georgians and the Shahdaddids for control of Ani and the surrounding Armenian areas. The struggle was ended when Zakare and Ivane Mkhagrdzeli, the Armenian generals who head the Georgian army of Queen T'amar captured Ani in 1199. In 1201 it was formally given to Zakare and Ivane by Queen T'amar, and within a few years most of greater Armenian came under Georgian control. It is just in this period that we have a documented reference to Ererouk by way of another inscription, this time on the church of St. John (Hovhannes) in Ani. The church was erected by Zakare according to the inscription he had carved on the exterior of the southern wall. It reads in part: "In the time. . . .of the Queen of Queens, I, Zakare. . . .High Constable . . . built this monument in stone. . . and I gave as presents of endowment: opposite this monastery and was formerly called Aver P'anduk, and Ererouk (zErerus) with all of its lands . . . and the spring of its flower garden. . . " Thus, Ererouk passed
under the control of the church of St. Hovhannesin Ani. The inscription is not dated, but since Zakare and Queen T'amar both died in the same year, 1221, it cannot be later than that date. Though the church could have been built theoretically any time after the Mkhagredzeli's were given Ani, 1201, according to Marr who lead the extensive excavation there before 1208. Our second inscription then must date to circa 1208-1201.
These two inscriptions are the only known references to the name Ererouk before the nineteenth century, when of course with the publication of these inscriptions, the name entered Armenian Onomasticon. In neither case do we find the name in its absolute or nominal form. Alishan's suggestion of Ererouk "or Ererowac" has been generally accepted. Marr on the basis of the 1038 inscription called it the place name Ererui. Though neither of the two inscriptions specifies whether Ererouk refers to the church or the village, we must assume the reference is the place where the basilica was located rather than to the building itself. Of course in practice, churches often took the name of their city or village, e.g. the Ani Cathedral.
Once again we are left without testimony. T'oramanian reports an inscription of the thirteenth century in or on the church itself, but without further specification. Its fate under Mongol, then Turkoman and finally Ottoman and Persian rule in Armenia is unknown. There us the very vaguest sort of evidence by the way of two Greek inscriptions which Marr says are late seventeenth-eighteenth century," the haphazard exercises of visitors. These are probably the graffiti of western travellers so common on antique monuments in the Near East.
There is no further evidence on the history of the basilica. In Shkhatunian's time it was already a ruin. In its immediate environs he reports the ruins of stone built dwellings, graves and the location was called Kizil Kule, and the abandoned dwellings were occupied by Kurds. The inscription 1038 was given as follows and the name Armenian for the first time. By 1881 the date of the publication of Shirak, Alishan speaks of the Russian guard post of Kizil
Kule (Red Tower), probably established sometime after the Russian Turkish War of 1874-1876, north of which are the ruins. In 1896 Madame H. Abich discusses the ruin and publishes the first plan of the church, which she calls "Alam (Kissilkolba)". She must have confused it with an Alam on the other side of the Akhurian River which can be found on the Map accompanying Lynch's Armenia published in 1901, but describing his travels of 1893-1894 and 1898. On Lynch's map, Ererouk is not found. There is south of Alam Kizil-kule, but he places like Alam to the west of the Akhurian, but on the east bank of a tributary branch of the river. It is too far south to be our Kizil Kule and is either another settlement with the same name or a mistake on Lynche's part.
In 1907, Nicholas Marr, who had already been excavating at Ani, published the first monograph devoted to Ererouk and its architecture. That was followed in the next year by the first archaeological expedition led by Marr. The team which spent a fortnight on the site, 23 July to 8 August, was composed of T'oros T'oramanian as architect, A. Tetvadjian and S. N. Poltaratzkin as artists, and included the students Hovsep Orbeli and N. N. Tikhonov. The interior of the church was clear and diggings made along the walls. All parts of the building were measured, drawn and photographed. Some important stones, probably
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