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Armenia: Odzun church

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Odzun church | Armenia | Asia

[Visited: May 2012]

Just arrived by marshrutka from Yerevan, it was not directly obvious where we could stay, and several helpful ladies at the local shopping mall called around, and before we knew it, we were on our way to a homestay in a Lada. Our enthusiastic host, who turned out to be very valuable in the next few days, actively thought with us, and after dropping our stuff in our room, we were quickly on our way in a local bus which she had personally stopped for us. After driving for a few minutes along the bottom of Debed gorge, we took a right turn, and the poor old bus was forced to give all it had on the steep climb up, out of the canyon. The higher we got, the more spectacular the views, until we took a last turn, and found ourselves on top of the plateau.

Picture of Odzun church (Armenia): Contours of Odzun church against a grey sky

Following a tree-lined road, it did not take us long before we arrived at Odzun. The driver was smart enough not to let us out before we had reached our destination: Odzun church, clearly visible on the left hand side of the road. A small tour group was on their way back into their van, which basically gave us Odzun to ourselves. A bearded priest was playing with some kids and their bike, and we first walked around the pinkish building. Scattered all around in the grass were tombstones of the clergy, on the southern side, we saw an arcaded cloister, while we saw an unusual monument on the northeast: two stelae framed by tall standing arches on a platform, a funerary monument that, we found out later, is quite unique in Armenia in that there is only one other. We got to the entrance, and the friendly priest ushered us in, enthusiastically showing us around, pointing out old, fourth-century old carved stones depicting Christ with the gospel, angels, and other biblical figures, that were used in the walls of Odzun church, which dates from the 8th century.

Picture of Odzun church (Armenia): Carving depicting Virgin Mary with Jesus, from the 4th century

Once we were inside, he became even more eager to show us around, and managed to make the history of the church come alive. Walking around the basilica in an anti-clockwise direction, he showed us more old pieces of carved stone that were placed in walls and columns, were from different centuries, and almost made the church look like a giant puzzle. The masterpiece of Odzun church is probably a carving of Virgin Mary with the Holy Child, which the priest adamantly claimed was the oldest such carving in the world. After having explained everything he wanted to share with us, the priest started to sing, and we just stood and enjoyed the chanting resonate in the tall church of Odzun. We made sure to leave a donation for the church, wondered at the meaning of a monument in front of the church which had a star and a hammer and sickle carved out of it. Instead of waiting for the next bus, we decided to start walking back, and were rewarded with spectacular views into Debed gorge, and also lammergeyers circling in the sky near the edge of the deep canyon. Several cars offered to take us with them, and were almost offended when we declined - we had not seen enough. We would soon discover that hitchhiking in Armenia is the easiest thing to do - people are so hospitable, you often get a ride offered without even asking. When we finally got into a car, the driver took us back to Alaverdi, where we were in for another adventure visiting Sanahin, on the other side up Debed gorge.

Picture of Odzun church (Armenia): Funerary monument at Odzun with richly decorated stelae
Picture of Odzun church (Armenia): Inside view of the basilica of Odzun
Picture of Odzun church (Armenia): Detail of one of the stelae of the funerary monument of Odzun
Picture of Odzun church (Armenia): 4th century carving in the outside wall of Odzun church of figure holding a bible
Picture of Odzun church (Armenia): Tombstones can be found scattered all around the grounds of Odzun church
Picture of Odzun church (Armenia): Southern side of Odzun basilica with cloister
Picture of Odzun church (Armenia): Detail of curious monument at Odzun church with star, and hammer and sickle on the side
Picture of Odzun church (Armenia): Odzun basilica seen from the western side
Picture of Odzun church (Armenia): Odzun church and tombstones
Picture of Odzun church (Armenia): North-east side of Odzun church
Picture of Odzun church (Armenia): View of the central dome of Odzun church
Picture of Odzun church (Armenia): Figures carved out on a fourth century stone in the outer wall of Odzun
Picture of Odzun church (Armenia): Gravestone lying in the grass next to Odzun church

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