The fortified Tatev
monastery stands overlooking the Vorotan gorge from a very
strong setting. It was for
centuries the seat of the Bishops of Syunik, a center of learning,
and storehouse of wealth from taxing all the villages in the
region. According to legend
it was named for St. Eustathius, one of 70 disciples who
accompanied the Apostle Thaddeus into Armenia.
Stepanos Orbelian, the medieval bishop/historian of
Syunik, recounts that Tatev housed 600 monks, philosophers “deep
as the sea,” able musicians, painters, calligraphers, and all
the other accoutrements of a center of culture and learning.
The monastery produced teachers and manuscripts for the
whole Armenian world.
Orbelian knew no date for the original insignificant church on the
site. However, Bishop Davit
gathered the princes of Syunik in 844 and persuaded them to grant
the monastery villages and lands worthy of the relics-including
bits of S. John the Baptist, S. Stephen, S. Hripsime, S. Gregory
the Illuminator, and a piece of the True Cross-that had found
their way to the designated seat of the Bishops of Syunik. It was
Bishop Ter-Hovhannes, however, who built the main church
dedicated to Saints Poghos and Petros (Paul and Peter) in 895-906.
Ter-Hovhannes was the son of a poor villager. According to Stepanos Orbelian, the young Hovhannes, sent off
by his cruel step-mother to watch the mayor's chickens, lost them,
and took refuge at the monastery. There
his intellectual gifts brought him a rapid ascent.
Elected bishop by acclamation, he resolved to build a
church worthy of the See, and did so.
The N facade has carved portraits of the donors, Prince
Ashot, his wife Shusan, Grigor Supan of Gegharkunik, and Prince
Dzagik. There are remains
of the original 10th c. frescos within.
The S. Grigor church of 1295 adjoins. In the courtyard is
an octagonal pillar 8 m high which allegedly pivots on a hinge.
Russo-Persian war, the monastery had been pillaged, the bishop
tortured and carried off to Tabriz. Tatev remained an active
monastery in the 19th c., though the Russians stripped
its archbishop of metropolitan status in 1837, and removed to
Ejmiatsin its remaining 140 manuscripts in 1912. Times got worse in the Soviet period.
The earthquake of 1931 did considerable damage, some of
which has recently been repaired.