ECHMIADZIN, or Itsmiadsin, a monastery of Russian Transcaucasia, in the government of Erivan, the seat of the Catholicus or primate of the Armenian church. It is situated close to the village of Vagarshapat, in the plain of the Aras, 2840 ft. above the sea, 12 m. W. of Erivan and 40 N. of Mount Ararat. The monastery comprises a pretty extensive complex of buildings, and is surrounded by brick walls 30 ft. high, which with their loopholes and towers present the appearance of a fortress. Its architectural character has been considerably impaired by additions and alterations in modern Russian style. On the western side of the quadrangle is the residence of the primate, on the south the refectory (1730-1735), on the east the lodgings for the monks, and on the north the cells. The cathedral is a small but fine cruciform building with a Byzantine cupola at the intersection. Its foundation is ascribed to St Gregory the Illuminator in 302. Of special interest is the porch, built of red porphyry, and profusely adorned with sculptured designs somewhat of a Gothic character. The interior is decorated with Persian frescoes of flowers, birds and scroll-work. It is here that the Catholicus confers episcopal consecration by the sacred hand (relic) of St Gregory; and here every seven years he prepares with great solemnity the holy oil which is to be used throughout the churches of the Armenian communion. Outside of the main entrance are the alabaster tombs of the primates Alexander I. (1714), Alexander II. (1755), Daniel (1806) and Narses (1857), and a white marble monument, erected by the English East India Company to mark the resting-place of Sir John Macdonald Kinneir, who died at Tabriz in 1830, while on an embassy to the Persian court. The library of the monastery is a rich storehouse of Armenian literature (see Brosset’s Catalogue de la bibliothèque d’Etchmiadzin, St Petersburg, 1840). Among the more remarkable manuscripts are a copy of the gospels dating from the 10th or 11th century, and three bibles of the 13th century. A type-foundry, a printing-press and a bookbinding establishment are maintained by the monks who supply religious and educational works for their co-religionists.
To the east of the monastery is a modern college and seminary. Half a mile to the east stand the churches of St Ripsime and St Gaiana, two of the early martyrs of Armenian Christianity; the latter is the burial-place of those primates who are not deemed worthy of interment beside the cathedral. From a distance the three churches form a fairly striking group, and accordingly the Turkish name for Echmiadzin is Uch-Kilissi, or the Three Churches. The town of Vagarshapat dates from the 6th century B.C.; it takes its name from King Vagarsh (Vologaeses), who in the 2nd century A.D. chose it as his residence and surrounded it with walls. Here the apostle of Armenia, St Gregory the Illuminator, erected a church in 309 and with it the primacy was associated. In 344 Vagarshapat ceased to be the Armenian capital, and in the 5th century the patriarchal seat was removed to Dvin, and then to Ani. The monastery was founded by Narses II., who ruled 524–533; and a restoration was effected in 618. The present name of the monastery was adopted instead of Vagarshapat in the 10th century. At length in 1441 the primate George brought back the see to the original site. (P. A. K.; J. T. Be.)