Type: Three aisled triple-naved basilica with
dome on sqinches.
Location: Lori region in northern Armenia, village of Odzunla(r),
Date: V-VI c.
Evidence For Date: Style of ornamental carving.
Important Details: Vaulted porches on the North, West,
and South sides. Commemorative obelisks and underground chambers.
State of Preservation: In good repair in use
Reconstructions: Dome was added at later date. Several restoration
efforts, some as late as 19th c.
Summary: The church of Awjun (Odzun) is located in the village
of the same name near Alaverdi, in the region of Lori (coord. 41-08/44-60).
There is no inscription or documentary information regarding the
date and circumstances of its construction aside from a reference
by the 13th century Armenian historian Kirakos Ganjakec' I that
the Catholicos Yovhan Awjnec' I (Hovhan Odzntsi, 717-728), "Built
a large church" in the village of Awjun. On the basis of architectural
details, such as the existence of porticos, a 5th c. feature. Along
with the word built, which more often refers to reconstruction,
the church has been attributed to the 6th or 7th century (T'oramanyan,
1942; Tokarski, 1961; Harut' Yunyan, 1975) with additions in the
8th century by Catholicos Yovhan. According to Manuc'Aryan, the
inscription on the lintel of the south portal indicates that T'ovmas
was the architect and sculptor commissioned by Yovhan to rebuild
the church. T'ovmas is believed he may have added the cupola. Sahinyan
(1973) considers the portico to have been contemporary with the
construction of the church on the basis of architectural evidence.
The small bell towers at the east end of the church were erected
toward the end of the 19th century. Restoration work was undertaken
in 1889, and again in 1949-1950 by the Armenian Commission for the
Restoration of Monuments.
Odzun is a large, longitudinal cruciform church inscribed within
a rectangle form and it is constructed of pink felsite stone. On
the interior four freestanding piers support the central cupola
with two additional piers at the west end. The plan is an example
of the synthesis of the basilican and the central-plan church found
also in the 7th century churches of Gayiane (A-0021), Mren (A-2176),
and Bagawan (A-2293).
The church has three arcaded porticos, open along the North and
South elevations, and closed on the West side. There are entrances
from the North, West, and South elevations. It is considered a triple-nave
basilica with narrow side aisles built of delicate rose colored
tufa. The basilica is encircled on three sides by a colonnade, which
is partially destroyed. This colonnade ends in two chambers surmounted
by small bell-towers.
The transition from the square central bay to the octagonal drum
is made through the use of squinches. The small dome has a series
of false ribs dividing it into sixteen segments. The tall and comparatively
wide central nave contrasts with the lower and much narrower side
Odzun is also notable for its figural relief sculpture. On the interior
of the North wall, the Virgin and Child are shown enthroned according
to Hovsepian; they may have been on the West portal. The representation
of the Virgin is of the Hodegetria type as seen in Byzantine Art.
On the exterior of the east wall, above the central window, Christ
is represented holding an open book carved with the first words
of the Gospel according to St. John. Two angels stand on either
side of the window, each holding a snake with the two snakes entwining
and terminating in palmettos that flank the bust of Christ. The
composition is unusual in Armenian art and in Christian art.
Other figures are carved on the north, south, and west elevations.
Two recumbent angels are carved on either side of the window flanking
what was probably a representation of Christ. There is another figure,
unidentified, over the window on the north wall, along with other
figures appear above and to the right of the west portal.
On the north side of the church there is a 6th century monument
consisting of twin stelae erected on a stepped platform. There is
no documentary or epigraphic inflation regarding its construction.
It is attributed to the 6th century on the basis of its similarity
to other Armenian funerary monuments, some of which were erected
by the Arsacid Kings well before the 5th century (Der Nersessian,
1977), and on the basis of its sculptural details. Manuc'Aryan considers
it to be a funerary monument of Yovhan Awjnec'i (717-728) and dates
it to 728-730 on the basis of a reference to Yovhan's construction
work at Awjun by the 13th century Armenian historian Kirakos Ganjakec'i.
The monument consists of two narrow obelisk-shaped stelae set between
double arches rising from a high platform with seven steps on the
West side. The stelae are carved with figured scenes with in panels,
on the east and west, and floral and geometric motifs on the other
two sides. There are scenes from the old and new testaments and
compositions generally considered referring to the history of the
conversion of Armenia to Christianity. King Trdat III is represented
in the form of a boar on the east face of the south stele. Below
him, there is a two-story domed structure which may represent the
original martyrium erected at the site of Hrip'sime's death at the
command of Trdat. Other scenes include the three Hebrews in the
fiery furnace, standing apostles holding crosses, the annunciation,
nativity, and baptism of Christ, as well as figures in military
dress and others who may be members of Trdat's court.
Fragments of two similar obelisk-like stelae, were found at Odzun
(Hovsep'ian). The stelae are important monuments for the history
of Christian art as well as Armenian art because of the iconography.
Grimm 1859, 7
Alisan 1893, 267
Rivoira 1914. 211-215
Rivoira 1918 206-210
Strzygowski 1918, I, 174-178
Strzygowski 1923, 69
Hovsepian 1944, 20-26, 33-35
Tokarskij 1946, 65-67
Arutjunjan & Safarjan 1951, 40
Elizaryan 1952, 37-38
Sahinyan 1955, 80-81, 106-112, 117-120, 166-167
Tokarskij 1961, 99-100
Azarian 1965, 212-220
Sarkisian 1966, 208-212
Xalpaxcjan 1966, 202-212
Cuvinasvili 1967, 53-61
Architettura Medieval Armena, 1968, 85
Cuneo 1968-1, 85
Utudjian 1968, 57-62
Der Nersessian 1970, 102-123
Khatchatrian 1971, 31-33, 47, 52
Medieval Armenian Architecture 1972, vi,vii, 30, fig. 37, 56, xvi
Cuneo 1973, 107-110
D'Onofrio 1973, 90-91, 94-95, 97, 113, ill. 49-51, 66
Gandolfo 1973, 226
Kouymjian 1973, 16
Muradyan 1973, 69-82
Sakhkian 1973, 169-173
Cone 1974, 40-41
Sahinyan 1974, 123-128
Harouthiouian 1975, 45-47, 52-53
Mnac'akanyan 1975-1, 13, 37-38
Der Nersessian 1977, 36, 51-52, 63, 66-68
Hasratian 1977-1, 215-242
Horhannisian 1978, 241
Kouymjian 1978, 20
Vysockij 1978, 5, 8
Parsegian 1980, microfiche A-0018 #21-26
Armenia Architecture Ivth-XVIIIth 1981, 26, 60
Kouymjian 1981, 8
Gandolfo 1982, 103-104, 113
Cuneo 1988, 61-62 282-285
Dozelus 1989, 130, 133, 143
Thierry & Donabedian 1989, 370-371, 563-564
Kouymjian 1992, 22
Karakhanian 1994, 69-70