Type: Central planned domed tetraconch
Location: In the city of Kars, Turkey.
Date: X Century (943-967)
Evidence for date: Linked to the invasion of
Important details: The church has no building inscriptions
(unusual considering being built in the Bagratid period).
Condition: Used as a museum
Reconstruction: 1234 renovation, 1579 converted into a mosque,
1877 converted into a Russian Orthodox Church,1918 again converted
into a mosque, 1919 converted back into an Armenian church, 1920
converted again to a mosque.
History & commentary:
St. Arak'eloc cathedral of Kars is situated at the base of the ancient
citadel of the city of Kars.
According to the reliable testimony of the tenth century Armenian
historian Step'anos Asolik, the Armenian Bagratid king Abas I (929-953)
"built the holy cathedral of the city of Kars with blocks of
stone, with sandstone blocks that were polished with steel: (the
church) was surmounted by a circular dome whose ornamentation resembled
the vault of heaven." Scholars assume that Abas transferred
the capital to Kars as soon as he became king and the construction
of the cathedral began soon thereafter. This is quite reasonable,
since the early Bagratid kings did not have a permanent capital.
They converted the center of their own realm or the town where they
resided before their coronation into the capital of the country.
From the ninth century, the Fortress City of Kars served as the
seat of the bother of the ruling king. If this tradition still prevailed
at the beginning of the tenth century, Abas was probably the master
of Kars, even before his coronation in 929, when his brother Asot
II (914-929) was king, therefore he could have built the church
at an earlier date. However, Step'anos Asolik and the later chroniclers
are quite specific in associating the construction of the cathedral
with Abas's coronation.
The exact date of the completion of the church is not given in the
sources, but there are two specific events connected with the consecration
of the edifice. The first is the invasion of the Abasgians, whose
king Ber hoped to consecrate the newly constructed church according
to the Chalcedonian rite. Unfortunately the date of this event is
not known and the identity of Ber remains a mystery. The second
event is the pontificate of Anania of Mokk as Catholics of Armenia.
Step'anos Asolik mentions the construction of the church and the
invasion of the Abasgians, and then adds that "at about this
time Lord Anania was on the patriarchal throne
dates of Anania are 943-967. The first year of Anania may serve
as a logical terminus as quem for the completion of the church.
The dates 932 and 931 given in the twelfth and thirteenth century
chronologies of Samuel of Ani and Mxit'ar of Ayrivank probably refer
to the beginning of the construction of the church. The discrepancy
of two or three years is due to different methods of calculation
used by the above authors.
St. Arak'eloc's church has no building inscriptions, which is very
unusual for a structure built during the Bagratid period. Modern
scholars suspect that inscriptions did exist at one time but were
removed by the Muslim occupants of the building.
The Armenian sources are absolutely silent about the subsequent
history of this church. It isusually assumed that after the Seljuks
conquered the city of Kars in 1065, the church was abandoned and
that during the Middle Ages it was partially covered with earth.
During the short Georgian occupation of the city, while the walls
of the fortress were being renovated in 1234, the church was probably
still abandoned. After the Ottoman occupation of western Armenia,
Mustafa Pasha converted the church into a mosque in 1579. It is
assumed that the Suleyman Efendi mosque mentioned by the seventeenth
century traveler Evliya Celebi is none other than St. Arak'eloc
church. After the Russian occupation of the city in 1877, St. Arak'eloc
was converted into a Russian Orthodox Church. Porticos were built
in front of the west, north and south portals, whose original structure
was destroyed. A sacristy was erected on the east side which covered
the entire façade, and inside an iconostasis was built. In
1918, the Turks reoccupied Kars and again converted the church into
a mosque. In 1919, during the brief Armenian occupation of Kars,
it was converted into an Armenian church. After the fall of the
city to the Turks in 1920, the church was again converted into a
mosque, but soon thereafter the Kemalist government put it up for
sale. The municipality of Kars bought it and planned to demolish
it to build a school on its site, but the plan was never carried
out. In the 1950's the municipality used it for a depot for petroleum.
At present it is a museum.
Step'anos Asolik, Samuel of Ani, and Mxit'ar of Ayrivank all knew
this church as a kat'u'ike ("cathedral"). The name, St.
Arak'eloc appears in the 19th century topographical works of Armenian
The cathedral of Kars is a centrally planned domed tetraconch, similar
in plan to the 7th century church of Mastara. Its interior plan
is reflected in the exterior volumes. Four apses radiate from a
central square bay, over which rises a circular dome. Externally,
the right angles of the square between the conchs protrude about
three meters beyond the sides of the apses; inside they are represented
by four dihedral angles each surmounted with a squinch. The conchs
are externally pentagonal, but their sides have irregular and oblique
dimensions. The outer sides are slightly convergent and are wider
than those in the middle. Inside the church the conchs are semicircular
and they open on the central square with a semicircular arch that
is supported by engaged pillars and rests on imposts. The west conch
is deeper than the one other three, its sides slightly extended.
Two vaulted apsidal chapels that open into the central square by
means of long narrow doors flank the east apse. Their backsides
have been torn sown in order to make the Russian sacristy accessible
to the church. As a result it is not known whether the east walls
of the chapels were flat or concave. The east elevations of the
apsidal chapels were the continuation of the wall of the east conch,
which appears pentagonal only above the apsidal chapels.
The drum of the dome rests on eight semicircular arches, four of
which belong to the conchs and four of which are the squinches over
the dihedral angles. The drum is externally and internally circular.
The hemispherical dome has a span of almost 11 meters. It is covered
with a conical roof that is surbased. The monument is 20 meters
high. The church has three portals, one on each on the north, south
and west elevations. The interior of the church receives its light
from twelve windows in the drum of the dome, four apsidal windows,
single windows on either side of the north and south conchs, and
four oculi, one each on either side of the east and west conchs.
All the windows have the same long, narrow form. They end with a
semicircular arch at the top, and have no interior splay. Externally
decorative reliefs surround them.
The roof of the conchs and those of the angles of the central square
area gently slanted. Vegetation now covers the roof. The conical
roof of the dome is covered with Roman tiles and is still in good
condition. This suggests that the monument was recently restored
or that its upkeep was carefully maintained.
On the spandrels between the twelve arches on the drum there are
twelve figural reliefs in standing position. These are executed
in a very primitive style. According to J.M. Thierry, these figures
represent the twelve apostles, whose cult was brought from Byzantium
in the 10th-11th centuries. The windows in the drum of the dome
are surrounded by blind arcades with arched bands carved with a
palmette motif resting on imposts that in turn stand on robust half
columns with ornamental reliefs. The cornice under the cover of
the cupola consists of an interlace band with four triple strands.
The lower cornice, encircling the central square and the exedrae
is decorated with diamond shaped motifs connected like the loops
of a chain. Inside each loop there are two rosettes with four petals.
Its dripstone consists of a simple band hanging over the beveled
edge. The arched bands over some of the church windows are also
carved in relief. Above the northwest oculus there is the relief
of a masculine figure with two serpents on either side of his face.
According to J.M. Thierry, the figure is that of St.Gregory the
illuminator. Set in the south elevation is a rectangular slab with
the relief of a lion facing to the left with its head and right
paw raised high. There are several khach'cars set into the walls
of the church, of various form and shape.
At each angle of the central square bay, at the topmost extremity
of the dihedral angle directly under the squinch, there is a half-conical
stone set in the wall with two faces at right angles. These stones
are carved with primitive releifs. The stones on the northeast and
southeast corners represent human heads, while the one at the northwest
resembles the head of a cow and that at the southwest an eagle.
These are believed to be the symbols for the four evangelists.
The spandrel wall separating the eight arches of the octagon from
the circular base of the drum is stepped in relief. The spandrels
to the upper step are decorated with scallops of five grooves each.
Underneath the scallops of the four western spandrels are the reliefs
of two human heads, the head of a ram, and that of a cow.
The engaged pillars on which the interior arches rest have two-faced
imposts which are also carved in relief.
Bross 1849 vol.3
Alish 1890 79-80
Lynch 1901-1 407
Eprik 1903 336-352
Strzy 1918 80
Barth 1927 820-821
Toran 1948 55,133
Kirzi 1953 vol.1
Thier 1965 165
Thier 1966 73-74
Xalpa 1966 233
Costa 1968-2 115
Cuneo 1977 54
Thier 1978 930-943
Heyw 1978 696-699
Hasrat 1979-5 344
Cuneo 1988 686-687