Armenian Studies Program
Type: Three aisled triple-naved basilica with dome on sqinches.
Location: Lori region in northern Armenia, village of Odzunla(r), (Uzunlar).
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
State of Preservation: In good repair in use today.
Reconstructions: Dome was added at later date. Several restoration efforts, some as late as 19th c.
Summary: The church of 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 aisles.
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.
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Alisan 1893, 267
Rivoira 1914. 211-215
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Strzygowski 1918, I, 174-178
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