Echmiadzin is the spiritual center of the Armenian Apostolic Church. Originally called Vagharshapat and renamed in 1945 after the Main Cathedral, Echmiadzin is the most populous city in Armavir province, about 20 kilometers west of Yerevan.
The Cathedral and churches of Echmiadzin, along with the archaeological remains at nearby Zvartnots Cathedral, are designated by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites.
The Main Cathedral of Echmiadzin
The Echmiadzin Cathedral was originally built by Saint Gregory the Illuminator as a vaulted basilica in 301-303 AD when Armenia was the only country in the world to have Christianity as its state religion.
St. Gregory had a vision of Christ descending from heaven and striking the earth with a golden hammer to show where the cathedral should be built, which is why he named it Echmiadzin “Descent of the Only Begotten Son”.
Echmiadzin was the seat of the Catholicos (Supreme Patriarch) of all Armenians from the beginning of its Christian era (early 4th century) to 461 AD, and again from 1441 to the present day.
It was demolished by the Persians in 364 AD, and restored shortly thereafter. For a while, it was turned into a Mazdean temple of fire and entirely rebuilt around 484 AD by Prince Vahan Mamikonian. Its present appearance is mainly due to renovations undertaken in the 17th century.