Religious places in Europe
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Mother See of Holy Echmiadzin
Echmiadzin is for the Armenian Apostolic Church what the Vatican is for the Catholic Church. The first Armenian church was built here in 301 and it has since become the most holy place in Armenia. The church was later rebuilt and extended to the cathedral you can see today, and the complex now includes chapels, priest seminar, home for the Catholicos (leader of the Armenian Church) and the treasury. Here, they keep all the religious relics that have been found in Armenia, including the spear a Roman soldier poked Christ with and pieces of wood from both Noah's Ark and the Holy Cross. Try to visit on a Sunday when mass is going on and the whole place is buzzing.
Khor Virap monastery
Close to the Turkish border
Khor Virap is that iconic church you see on postcards and paintings from Armenia. It is perched on a small hill with an almost too picturesque background of majestic Mt. Ararat which rises across the border in Turkey. The present church of Khor Virap was built in the 17th century on a foundation of previous chapels. Saint Gregory the Illuminator was initially imprisoned here for 13 years in a deep pit - khor virap means "deep well" in Armenian - which can be visited today by climbing down a steep creepy ladder. Khor Virap is an important pilgrimage site for Armenians and religious services are held at the church, including some strange rituals like sacrifice of roosters and release of white doves (which are trained to fly back to the seller). Try to visit in the weekends if you want to see some action.
Noravank monastery complex is one of the finest in Armenia. It was constructed during the 13th and the 14th centuries and consists of two churches, where one has two floors (and a scary staircase) making it the only double leveled church in Armenia. The same church, Surb Astvatsatsin, has some elaborated carvings, one depicting Jesus flanked by Peter and Paul all with slanted eyes to ease any Mongol army in case they should return (the Mongols looted Armenia from 1220 to 1320, and the church was built in 1339). There is a fine collection of cross stones (khachkars), and tombstones.
Overlooking Vorotan Canyon
It seems that the early Christians in Armenia were really fond of splendid views for churches in Armenia are often perched on hilltops or edge of gorges, and Tatev monastery is a prime example. Sitting high on an outcrop at the end of Vorotan Canyon, with impressive views down the length of the canyon, it is surely jaw-dropping. Tatev was constructed in the 9th century and functioned as a university in the 14th and 15th centuries. The complex includes several halls and towers which some were used as library, kitchen and dining hall. The 8 m tall, but damaged, pillar in the corner of the courtyard is said to be an sensor for earthquakes - or approaching armies (Tatev was as looted as any other monastery in Armenia by various armies through times). Today you can "fly" over the canyon to the monastery in the brand new cable-car, which, by the way, is the world's longest with its 5.7 km.
© John Smith
Amaras monestery is one of the oldest Christian monasteries in the world. Established by the same guy who converted Armenia to Christianity (St. Gregory the Illuminator) in the beginning of the 4th century. A century later, a school was established here at the monastery, being the first school to use the newly invented Armenian script. Today, you can still see the Armenian letters that were plastered on the ceiling as educational decoration in the building next to the church. The fine white church you see today is a result of 19th century restoration, since the original church was severely damaged from various wars through time. The gatekeeper's house, that is part of the surrounding wall, has what looks like a handful of bullet holes, probably from the latest war in the 1990s.
© John Smith
Gandzasar monastery is the main historical/religious site in Nagorno-Karabakh. It's from the 10-13th century, well cared for with a mighty fine collection of cross stones, so-called khachkars, in the walled garden. The walls inside of the cathedral is covered with fine Armenian inscriptions and the ornamentation is considered to be exquisite. Gandzasar is perched above the touristy village of Vank (you might wonder how a village in Nagorno-Karabakh can be touristy, but you will see) at 1,267 m with splendid views over the forest covered mountains.
In 1858 Virgin Mary occurred for a poor peasant girl, Bernadette, in a cave outside the small market town of Lourdes. The seeing of Virgin Mary continued that year and Bernadette was even told by Mary to dig a hole where holy water suddenly sprung from. The whole thing was then named "Our Lady of Lourdes" and confirmed as a miracle in 1862 by the local bishop on order from the pope. Today Lourdes is one of the major destinations for Roman Catholic pilgrimage and sick from all over the world come here for the claimed miraculous healings. The population of the town is only around 15,000, but more than 5,000,0000 pilgrims and tourist come by every year. The town can seem like a religious theme park and is adapted to the hordes of Catholic pilgrims with special lanes for the sick in wheelchairs and mobile stretches. It can be hard to understand the mania for nonbelievers, but why not join the madness and buy an "Our Lady of Lourdes"-shaped water bottles from one of the many souvenir shops and bring home a splash of holy water - you never known!
Cave monastery Davit Gareja
Daytrip from Tbilisi
Out in the middle of nowhere, close to the border to Azerbaijan, lies a collection of cave monasteries known as Davit Gareja. You drive up to the main monastery, Lavra, which has been rebuilt to charming perfection. The hillside next to the monastery is holed like a Swiss cheese with small monk cells â€“ which are in use and therefore cannot be visited. Above the walled complex of Lavra lie several other caves which used to be chapels and monk rooms. The view over the Georgian prairie is spectacular and you can see up to Azerbaijan from the top of the hill.
Hill of Crosses
12 km from Å iauliai
From the distance the Hill of Crosses doesn't look like much, just a small knoll with some crosses. But as you approach the collection of crosses you will suddenly realise just how many crosses there are. The hill is literally covered in crucifixes of all sizes, materials and colours which as been left by pilgrims through the last couple of centuries. It's estimated that there are more than 100,000 crosses - and more are coming every year.
Painted Monastery at Humor
The painted monasteries in northeastern Romania is a collection of churches that have their exterior painted in colorful cartoon-style frescoes. The walls feature biblical stories as well as portraits of saints, which were probably meant as education for the illiterate peasants and soldiers.
Humor monastery and its frescoes date back to the 16th century and is on now UNESCO's World Heritage List. The exterior frescoes depict the Last Judgement, Holy Virgin, St. George and the besiege of Constantinople. The interior is equally colorful. Even though it lies a long walk from Gura Humorului town, it is the most accessible of the painted monasteries.