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Index of Armenian Art: Armenian Architecture


Type: Domed Triple-Nave Basilica
Location: Mirini-Karabagh within the Kars region of Turkey.
Date: 631-639
Evidence for date: Inscription engraved on western facade that states that Mren was built from 631-639.
Important details: Figural relief sculptures.
State of preservation: Interior in poor condition, southwest corner has fallen in.
Reconstruction: Rivet partially restored during the 13th century.
Summary: The Cathedral of Mren is located in Mirini-Karabagh within the Kars region of Turkey, about one kilometer from the Armenian border (Coor. 40-14 / 43-40). The church stands on a hillside overlooking the Arpa River.

It was constructed by David Saharuni (Mnac' Akanyan, Sargsyan, and M. and N. Thierry).

The Cathedral is in good condition with the exception of the Southwest corner. It is 26.51 X 45.72 meters in size. The interior and exterior of the walls are of smooth surfaced stones. It is a three-aisled basilica, with the central cupola supported by four piers. The east apse, polygonal on its exterior, is flanked by two square chambers. The entrances along the south, west, and north elevations. The drum of the central cupola is octagonal on the exterior, while its interior has eight ribs in low relief similar to those at Mastara (A=0029).

The church is notable for the figural relief sculpture over the north and west portals. On the west portal tympanum, two angels stand holding a globe. On the lintel below, the adoration of Christ is shown with Christ flanked by Sts. Peter and Paul, with bishop Theophilus and Prince David Saharuni of Armenia shown on the right, and Nerseh Kamsarakan of Armenia on the left, in contemporary dress. The north portal lintel contains a unique religious composition showing three personages taking part in a scene interpreted as the dedication ceremony of the church (Sargsyan) or a commemoration of the recovery of the true cross by the Byzantine Emperor Heraclius (M. and N. Thierry).

Other sculpture includes a pair of lions and a figure which may be Daniel carved over one window on the east elevation, and two serpents carved over another window.

Mren is sometimes referred to as the, "Church of the inscribed cross." During the Middle Ages, Mren was incorporated in a 13th century village that surrounded a palace. There is an inscription engraved on the western facade of the church, that states that the church of Mren was built between the years of 631-639 AD The inscription names the builders of Mren, Saharuni, the governor of Armenia and Kamsarakan, the lord of the region.

The rivet of Mren was partially restored during the 13th century. There are khatchkars that can be found on the western facade of the church. Nothing remains of the zhamatun, which seemed to have been fixed in the facade. Since the beginning of the 20th century, the church of Mren has been deteriorating, especially on the interior. The southwest corner has fallen in.

Mren is supported by four free-standing pillars. The form of the supports stretch from the west to the east and the pillars of the basilica resemble a T structure. In the church of Mren, two square rooms are arranged next to the apse with pentagonal projection. The cupola is in the center of the nave, but it is not in the whole part of the edifice.

The ensemble of the church of Mren's sculpted decor is of sobriety in conformity with the style of the first half of the 7th century. On the exterior of Mren, there are rows of small arches on the cornice. The apse of Mren contains three windows that are surrounded and joined by a continuous band. In the church of Mren, the decorations consist of ornaments of vines rows of rosettes with four flowers and diamond points.

Above the entrance of Mren, one observes the relative importance of figurative decoration. On the keystone on the west door of Mren, Christ is sculpted standing up, accompanied by the Apostles, Peter and Paul. Peter can be recognized in the sculpture by the keys that he is holding. Paul can be recognized by his beard and baldness. To Peter's right side, a bishop is standing on the extremities. Two princes can also be seen, turned toward the center, kneeling in prayer in this scene. The princes are dressed with heavy coats, embossed by Transcaucasian and mountainous regions of the Orient aristocracies.

The identifications of the sculpture can be facilitated by inscriptions mentioning the builders of the edifice and the bishop, Theophilus.

Alisan 1881, 136, 141
Strzygowski 1918, 182-184, 506
T'Oramanyan 1942-1948, 295-296, 47-48, 128, 186-190
Clement & Williams 1917, 102, 354
Jakobson 1950, 39-40
Arutjunjian 1952, 42
Sahinyan 1955, 106-124
Tokarskij 1961, 96-99
Arak'elyan 1964, 151-152
Thierry 1965, 171-173
Krautheimer 1965, 230
Sarkisian 1966, 208-212
Sargsyan 1966, 241-250
Architecttura Medievale Armena 1968, 86
Thierry 1971, 43-77
Ricera 1978, 43-45
Bauer 1981, 80-81
Thierry & Donabedian 1987, 70, 73, 76, 80, 470, 484, 556
Cunneo 1988, 408
Kouymjian 1992, 20, 22



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