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Karen Matevosyan

Doctor of Historical Sciences


Dadivank is one of most ancient monasteries of Verin Khachen province of historical Artsakh region in Armenia, located on the left bank of Trtu (Tartar) river (the right tributary to Kura), in a wooded picturesque place. The monastery also has a second name, Khutavank.

According to the tradition, the sanctuary was founded in the place of martyrdom of one of the seventy of Christ’s disciples, Dad or Dade (Tadeus), in the 1st century, which later turned into a monastery. Dadivank has flourished especially in the 13th-14th centuries; it was functioned also later, in the 16th-17th centuries a number of manuscripts were written here. The monastery was renowned as a residence for bishops, cemetery for nobles, and a national pilgrimage place. The main church of Dadivank, St. Cathedral church, was built by the Princess of Haterk, Arzu Khatun, in 1214, in memory of her late husband, Vakhtang and two sons. The monastic complex occupies a unique place with its structures and monuments in the history of Armenian architecture and art, thanks to which its history and cultural heritage have attracted the attention of many researchers.

Dadivank, which was abandoned in Soviet times, was part of Azerbaijan. In 1993 the area was liberated, and since that year the monastery is in the part of the Nagorno Karabakh Republic, belonging to the Artsakh Diocese of the Armenian Apostolic Church. In this new period (especially in 1997-2011), the monastery was undergoing major renovation through the efforts of the Research on Armenian Architecture (RAA) Organization, with the help of individual benefactors.

One of the merits of Dadivank is the frescoes preserved on the northern and southern walls of the Cathedral, which have not been studied as necessary due to the fact that they were previously faded and covered with smoked layers. For many, it was not even clear what types of imagery are there. In 2014-2015 by the efforts of architect Arà Zarian and Italian restorer Christine Lamore, the restoration and strengthening of the main parts of the fresco have been made. Thanks to this, the frescoes are now seen in the most complete form (although there are still scattered passages) allowing them to be studied in detail.

Dadivank’s frescoes, which are the best preserved ones in the Artsakh region, are remarkable in the subject matter. One of the images on the southern wall represents one of the greatest Christian saints - the patriarch of the city of Myra of Asia Minor Nicholas the Wonderworker (depicting the epic scene of getting his patriarchal power); the other on the northern wall depicts the martyrdom of Saint Stephen Protomartyr. Both frescoes are accompanied by Armenian inscriptions written by the paint, clarifying each of the characters. The images of these saints are known in Christian art since early times, and in Armenian art, mainly in miniature painting. However, the compositions of Dadivank’s frescos are distinguished by their iconographic and artistic peculiarities.

During the cleaning and restoration of the fresco, a very important discovery was also the inscription on a painting, in which the exact date of the frescoes was mentioned: 1297.

Current study concerned to the frescos of Dadivank Monastery, but first we briefly get acquainted with the certain episodes of the monastery’s history and the historical information related to the circumstances of creating of frescos.


There are enough publications on the history of Dadivank, churches and other architectural structures, sculpture, epigraphies, center of writings and the restoration of monastic complexes.

In the literature on the monastery, the researchers while speaking about the foundation and the origin of its name usually first quote from Chronology of Michael the Syrian (12th century Assyrian bishop of Antioch). It says that by the order of the apostle Thaddeus, one of the seventy disciples of Christ, Dad (or Thaddeus) went to the northern part of Armenia, in particular, the Little Syunik (Artsakh) region, where he martyred and on the place of his martyrdom a monastery was founded in his name. However, the researchers did not address the fact that this testimony was found only in the Armenian translation of the Michael the Syrian’с Chronology, whereas Syriac original does not have such evidence. Consequently, it should be assumed that in the Chronology this information was included by its Armenian translator - famous Archimandrite of the 13th century, Vardan Areveltsi, who was also born in Artsakh. In the list of Armenian Catholicii he made the following addition: “Apostle Dadi, one of the seventies, by order of Apostle Thaddeus (one of 12 apostles - K. M.), came to the northern parts of Greater Armenia and listening about the death of Thaddeus, came to Little Syunik and lived clergy’s life, then he was martyred, and the place of his martyrdom named Dadia, and a monastery was built in that place, which was named after him”.

It is very important that this bibliographic information on the founding of the monastery is confirmed by the lithographic testimony recorded in Dadivank itself. Particularly in the inscription of 1224 on the west wall of Cathedral Church, Grigor, son of Hasan states that he made a donation to the “Dad’s Grave”. In other words, there was no doubt that the monastery was in the place of the martyrdom of one of the 70 disciples of Christ, the place where the tomb was. This should be added to the results of the excavations of 2008, according to which supposedly opened the Dadi’s mausoleum: in the future a big single-nave basilica church was designed in a way that the mausoleum appears exactly in front of the altar.

Dadivank was also mentioned in the “History” of historiographer Movses Kaghankatvatsi. Talking about a case in the 9th century, the historiographer writes that Varaz-Trdat and his son Stephanos were killed in “Khoradzor called Dado Monastery”. Meanwhile, Mkhitar Gosh mentions the monastery in occasion of the Seljuk Choli amira’s attack on it and its destruction in 1144, writing: “The whole province was destroyed, they burned down also the apostle-founded shrine called Dadu’s Monastery”.

We do not address the testimony of a later period about the naming of monastery after Dad. As about the second name of the monastery, though it is often mentioned in the literature that the place was called Khutavank because it was built on khut (hill) near the river, more probably this name comes from the name of a rather large village of Kuth, which at that time was close to the monastery and belonged to it. It is a good idea to mention that the name is more common in late-term sources. It is noteworthy, for example, that in a record of 1854 the monastery was mentioned as “Amai Monastery, which is called Khuti Monastery (in Persian - Charektar Monastery), built in the name of Apostle Date.” And Mesrop Ter-Movsisyan (Magistros) in his travel notes about his visit to Dadivank in 1911 calls it “Khotavank,” adding that in the description he should call the monastery “by his old name, Dadi vank”.

The main sources of the history of Dadivank are the local wall inscriptions from 12th-17th centuries, which contain information on the construction of some buildings, numerous donations to the monastery, monastic estates, priests, etc. The colophons of manuscripts written here are from the 16th century; they provide certain materials on development of written culture in the monastery. Like other medieval Armenian monasteries, Dadivank also had its “Kotuk,” a collection of monastery documents, which, unfortunately, had been lost, but three pages from it survived in the No 2776 manuscript of Matenadaran. They have been separated from the main book and have been attached to this manuscript, containing copies of some of the wall inscriptions of Dadivank.


Most of Dadivank’s buildings were built from the late 12th to the beginning of the 14th century. At that time, the monastery was located in the domain of the princes of Haterk, which originated from the ancient royal family of Artsakh, Aranshahiks. From the 1320s, the Dopians, a noble family originated from the sister of Zakare and Ivane Zakaryans, Dop and the prince of Artsakh, Hasan, became patrons of the monastery. One of the sons of this couple, Hovhannes, who was the leader of Sanahin, then - Hagbat monasteries, finished his career as a leader of Dadivank. It is noteworthy that the leaders of Dadivank originally came from noble families.

The architecture of Dadivank is properly presented in professional literature. The phase of construction of the monastery throughout the centuries through the plans has been thoroughly represented by Samvel Ayvazyan in his book.

On the northern side of the fronted part of the monastic complex are churches, the courtyard, the chapel, and in the south - the subsidiary buildings of monastery. An ancient structure is the old building traditionally on the site that is considered to be the tomb of Dad, on which later the basilica church (from 10th-11th centuries or later) was built. From the south side, adjacent to the wall, there is a small rectangular basilica church with a roofed gavit (nartex) on the opposite side (12th century). In 1224 monk Grigoris (the son of Vasak the Martyr) built a large quadrangle gavit in front of St. Dad’s church. In south-east from the two basilicas, in 1214, the domed St. Cathedral Church was built, which became the main church of the complex. In front of the entrance an open air hall was constructed with columns at the southern side, ending with a bell tower at the western side, built in 1334 by Bishop Sargis. Inside the bell tower, two khachkars (cross-stones) of high artistic quality are set up, ordered by the monastery’s leader, Atanas, in 1283, which are the largest in whole Artsakh.

A small domed church with a brick-made tambour was built to the southwest of the cathedral (1211-1224), having a certain deviation from the axis of the other churches.

In the southern part of the monastery complex is the other group of monastery buildings. Here the most eminent structure is the zhamatun with four pillars built in 1211. To the west of it there is a dining-room, a guest house, a book-house, a two-storeyed building with large rooms, etc. Dadivank is distinguished from other Armenian monasteries by the abundance of secular and auxiliary buildings.

The main monastery, St. Cathedral Church, as it was mentioned above, was built by Hittzard princess Arzu Khatun, in memory of her late husband, Vakhtang and her two sons, the eldest was martyred in the war against the Turks. This testifies the extensive building inscription on the southern wall of the church (1214), which also mentions numerous donations to the monastery.

The head of the monastery, St. Cathedral Church, as it was mentioned above, built the Haterk princess Arzu Khatun, in memory of her late husband, Vakhtang and her two sons, the eldest of whom were martyred in the war against the Turks. This is evidenced by the 1214th wall of the church wall an extensive construction protocol, which also mentions numerous donations to the monastery.

The name of the church, starting with the building inscription, until numerous donation protocols on its walls, is mentioned as “Katoghike” – Cathedral Church. This church, which is the only building with monumental stone, is a rectangular, cross-shaped domed structure with two-storeyed lateral chapels in four corners. On the southern and eastern walls of the church, beyond the central windows, there are ktitor sculptures with the scale model of the church.


The Cathedral Church, founded by Arzu Khatoun, has the most luxurious decoration among Dadivank’s buildings, both inside and outside. On the outside, the western (main) and northern (now closed) entrances and the trimmings are the main parts with sculptures, as well as the bas-reliefs of orderers (ktitors) on the southern and eastern walls. On the southern wall, at the top of Arzu Khatun’s large inscription, on both sides of the window, the rulers, Hasan and Grigor, are sculpted, standing in their entirety in their characteristic dresses and high hats. The model of the church is carved above their hands. The princes were already dead at that time, probably because also of that reason they are depicted with small halos. A unique architectural solution was found for the model, with a small window open behind it.

The eastern wall has a similar composition, but both characters now have been preserved in the size of the bust. On the left there is a bareheaded person with stressed halo, and on the right is a mature man with a noble cap, a small halo and a thick beard. The researchers are rightly asserted that a man with noble outfit is the dead husband of Arzu Khatun, Vakhtang, and the saint in front of him is St. Dad, whose name bears the monastery.

It is possible to have some idea about the internal decoration of the Cathedral, as reported by the 13th century historiographer Kirakos Gandzaketsi (dead in 1271). Writing that the famous Archimandrite Mkhitar Gosh (dead in 1213), with the support of some Armenian noblemen, built Nor Getik monastery (Goshavank), among the princes he first mentioned Haterk’s prince Vakhtang Khachentsi and his brothers, as well as Vakhtang’s wife Arzu Khatun. Gandzaketsi writes in detail about the latter, saying that she and her daughters had prepared and served the curtain of the church, which, with its beauty and illustration (also having images of the Savior and saints), surprised those who saw it. Continuing his narrative, the historiographer states that Arzu Khatun not only prepared a curtain for this church, but also for others, including Dadivank. “She prepared a curtain not only for this church, but also for Haghbat, Makaravank and Dadivank, because she was a devout woman. "

It is clear that Arzu Khatun and her daughters should have done their best to create a glorious curtain for Dadivank. We believe that this curtain made at least in 1214 was decorated the Cathedral Church in 1297 when the frescoes of St. Stepanos and St. Nicolas have been made on the right and left sides of the altar on the northern and southern walls of the church.

Since below Dadivank’s frescos will be thoroughly explored, especially in terms of iconography and art, we will make a few historical observations here. The point is that until now the opinions about the date of the making of the frescos was at the level of assumptions, based on time mentioned on the plaster of donation records on the inner walls of the church (it was mentioned before 1261 or 1312, etc.). However, now, when the date of making the fresco is known - 1297, one can try to find out who could be the orderer or the patron of the frescoes and for what purpose it was created.

It is understandable that such an important initiative - makimg of a fresco in the main church of the monastery, was to be approved first of all by the bishop of that time (who was also the leader of the monastery). Dadivank’s lithographs allow us to follow the sequence of the leaders who were in that period. From the middle of the 13th century the bishop-leaders were Ter Grigores, son of Vasak (recalled in 1224, 1241, 1250, 1253), Ter Atanas (first recalled in 1261, died in 1283), Ter Grigores, son of Vakhtang (recalled 1290), Ter Hovhannes (died in 1305), Ter Sargis (recalled in 1307, 1309, 1340) .

It is worth mentioning that the leaders of Dadivank, from the end of the 12th century, originated from the Haterk noble house, and we see this phenomenon in time we are interested in, when the monastery’s affairs were ruled by representatives of the Tsar branch of the Dopian prince house. Among the above-mentioned leaders, Hovhannes was the brother of Hasan 2nd Dopyan (died in 1287). And his next Sargis, was the son of prince Grigor, son of Hasan, who inherited the power. One of the lithographs of Dadivank, written in the early stages of Sargis’ Patriarchate, in 1307, contains interesting details in which it is possible to see some connection with the Cathedral frescoes.

The inscription is written inside the church, on the wall of the southern side of the altar, with red paint. It begins on behalf of the name of Hasan’s wife, Mamkan, informing that she and her son Grigor, as patrons of the monastery, have made a number of donations. Then the text goes on behalf of the prince Grigor, and another donation is being mentioned, for which his son Sargis (the clergyman) and the brothers should give a liturgy to his mother and wife. “My son, Ter Sargis and the brothers confirmed that the mass of St. Stephen’s Day should be for my mother and my wife Aspa. ” We can assume that it is not accidental for Mamkan and Aspa to choose the mass of St. Stephen’s Day, especially when we refer to the presence of St. Stephen’s fresco in the same church. Mamkan was a daughter of powerful King Kurd 1st and Khorishah (they built the church and the gavit of Yeghipatrush in Aragatsotn province, the God-receiver Church, the bookstore of Saghmosavank, etc.); she was a devout woman with cultural interests like her parents, also known with other donations. It can not be excluded that by continuing the tradition of the decoration of Cathedral Church, established by Arzu Khatun, the princess Mamkan was the orderer (patron) of the frescos, naturally taking into account the opinion and desire of the congregation. At least, especially the testimony of allocating the mass of St. Stephen’s Day to her allows such an assumption. It is known that Mamkan died in 1315 and buried in Dadivank.

However, regardless of who has been the patron of the initiative, we can state that the frescoes of the Cathedral Church were made during the chairing of either abbot Ter Grigores, son of Vakhtang, who was remembered in 1290, or abbot Ter Hovhannes (died in 1305), who was the brother of Hasan, Mamikan’s husband.


The issue of the motive for the making of Dadivank’s fresco could not have been avoided if it was similar to other famous Armenian frescos dating back to the late 13th century. We mean the selection of themes: the martyrological depiction of St. Stephen and St. Nicholas, especially the picture of the second one, which does not meet neither before nor after in the frescos of churches following the Armenian Church creed. In this regard, the opinion of art critic Lidia Durnovo is remarkable, according to whom the appearance of such a rare scene should have its own unique reasons.

We should say right away that there is no source or historic testimony directly answering this question. However, in the middle of the 13th century, a remarkable event that took place in the domain of the Dadivank bishopric allows to submit a version for the clarification of the issue. This refers to one of the excerpts of the 13th century historiographer, Archimandrite Kirakos Gandzaketsi, which he presented in a separate chapter (no 48) titled “About David the Deceiver”.

It is worth mentioning that this was a gloomy time after the Mongolian cruelty, when the people were again awakened predictions about the end of the world and every unusual thing was perceived as a heavenly sign. Kirakos Gandzaketsi begins by saying that the end of the world is near, and for this reason, the agents of the antichrist have multiplied, and then notes that in 1250, there was a hail on the sides of Khachen with fig-size fishes from the sky. The historiographer says that he has not seen it personally, but many assured him that they had witnessed it. It is clear that this phenomenon, which is now quite obvious, was a miracle at that time. After writing about another similar story, the historiographer goes on to say that in the same year, in the village of Tsar, a person named David was saying that he saw Christ in his dream, who gave him a commandment “to change the world and heal. ” According to Gandzaketsi, the devil appeared in the form of Christ in David’s dreams, putting him on the deviant way. According to the commandment in the vision, David prepares a cross from the giant beam of his oil-mill and puts it in front of the church, and it becomes a gathering place for his followers. He received people from every part of the province, not just ordinary people, big and small, but also elders, noblemen.

We are particularly interested in the historiographer’s report that the followers praised David and called him Wonderworker. “And many followed him, and began to spread his fame and called him David the Hermit and Wonderworker. ” Continuing the story, the narrator tells about the David’s healers, the behavior of his followers with irony, indicating sectarian elements in them, but also does not conceal the fact that he enjoys a great reputation. The reason for this was that he was doing his healing free of charge, giving remission of sins, and so on. Naturally, the current situation worries church leaders. Gandzaketsi writes that soon famous monk Vanakan sends a rebuking message to David. However, as Tsar was in the area of ​​Dadivank’s bishopric, a decisive action was being made by the head of the place arriving with a great retinue. “Bishop Grigores from Dadivank came with archimandrite Vardan and many priests because the village was in the area of ​​their diocese. ” They try to overthrow David’s cross, which is opposed by the people. Finally, the crowd frightened by the bishop’s curse, handed David them. However, on the way back to Dadivank, they encountered the inhabitants of Garni village, who returned from the “royal court” (probably from the seat of the Mongol governor). These people, being acquainted with the happening and responding David’s request (who says he is also from Garni), ask hand David them. The bishop makes David to swear that he no longer will be involved in the same case, and released him. At the end of this story, Gandzaketsi writes that David used to say in his sermons that he was from the Arshakuni royal family and one of his sons would become the King of Armenia and the other - Catholicos, according to the vision of Catholicos St. Sahak. This shows that David was not a simple peasant but a competent person, and his movement “to change the world” had deep layers.

Nothing more is known about David and his followers. But as we can see, after his “great hour” in Tsar, David remained in freedom and is supposed to continue spreading his ideas. It is likely that he has not forgotten soon in Tsar and in its surroundings.

What is the connection to this story with Dadivank’s fresco? Perhaps only that David was nicknamed the Wonderworker by his followers, which was also the nickname of St. Nicholas from the fresco. Although he is mentioned in the Armenian Church as Nickoghayos Hayrapet (Patriarch Nicholas), but also by his nickname Wonderworker (for example, in the 11th Century Lectionary of Catholicos Grigor Vkayaser, “Martyrology of the Patriarch Nicolas the Wonderworker”).

As it became clear from the story of Kirakos Gandzaketsi, the Bishop of Dadivank was able to stop the activity of David Tsaretsi in his diocesan territory. However, it seems that this practical step after some time has been tried in Dadivank to strengthen theoretically. Particularly, by sending a message to the people through Nicholas the Wonderworker’s fresco, that the church has its recognized saint, the real Wonderworker who was justified by Christ.

Probably it is not by chance that the martyrological episode of St. Nicholas’ getting of patriarchal power was depicted in Dadivank; on the one hand, Christ gives him the Gospel and, on the other, Virgin Mary hands him an amice. This popular iconographic version is a testimony of S. Nicholas’ undisputable reputation.

But it is surprising to see the fact of appearance of Archangel Michael in this picture, an image which with mentioned iconography (that we know hundreds of examples in Byzantine, Russian and European icon art) does not meet and is unique. The Archangel Michael, who is one of the great saints of the church, the head of the heavenly armies, is not only present on this painting, but also addresses words to Nicholas, written in the upper part of the fresco: "I am, Michael, who always keeps you and I am your collaborator since childhood” (followed by the date of the making of fresco - 1297).

Thus it is evident that the orderer or the painters of the fresco intended to emphasize in maximum the greatness of Nicholas the Wonderworker as a saint “divinely gifted” and having the “collaboration” of heavenly powers. It seems that it was done for a special purpose, as an ever-sounded sermon on the church wall, and an appeal to the people so they no longer believe in any intruder “Wonderworker.”

There are many examples in the art history, when historical or social events have, in a way or other, affected the way in which the art of the given region was selected or presented. It seems that with the case of Dadivank’s fresco of St. Nicholas we deal with such a phenomenon, which is partly explained its uniqueness.

Interestingly, the other fresco on the opposite wall of that of Nicholas’, which represents the stonemasonry scene of St. Stephen Protomartyr, also has an inscription with paint of sententious characteristic. At the top of the image is Christ who extends his hand to the angels pictured on the front and says: “See the earthly nature that is suffering for me in the body.”

These words addressed to the angels, are a reminder about the martyrdom of saints (in particular, of St. Stephen) and godly gifted intercessor’s role, to which the believers who are involved in the daily rituals of the church should also be involved. At the same time, it is worth noting that these lines are literally quoted by the 12th century Armenian Catholicos Nerses Shnorhali’s verse dedicated to Stephen, “About the Protomartyr. ” This can also be regarded as a response of the Armenian reality (theological thought) in the canonical sphere of church decoration (illustration).

In summary, we can say that the double frescos on the northern and southern walls of Dadivank Cathedral were created with a specific purpose to emphasize the role of the saints and are characterized by iconographic peculiarities. The depiction of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker and the special emphasis of his power of the image and words of Archangel Michael, added on the painting, perhaps was due to the desire to neutralize the reputation of David Tsaretsi, nicknamed “Wonderworker,” who appeared in the area of ​​Dadivank’s bishopric before the making of the fresco.

The article was published in the following book:

K. Matevosyan, A. Avetisyan, A. Zarian, Ch. Lamoureux, Dadivank Revived Miracle, “Victoria” International Charitable fondation, Yerevan, 2018, pp. 137-151.


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Ստ. Մնացականյան, Հայկական աշխարհիկ պատկերաքանդակը, Երևան, 1976, էջ 109-116։

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Շ. Մկրտչյան, Լեռնային Ղարաբաղի պատմաճարտարապետական հուշարձանները, Երևան, 1985, էջ 38-40։

Թ. Մինասյան, Արցախի գրչության կենտրոնները, Երևան, 2015, էջ 33-37։

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See the French translation done from Syriac: Chronique de Michael le Syrien, Traduite en francais par J.-B. Shabot, Tom III, Paris, 1905, p. 517.

Տեառն Միխայէլի պատրիարքի Ասորւոց Ժամանակագրութիւն, յԵրուսաղէմ, 1870, էջ 600։

Ժամանակագրութիւն Տեառն Միխայէլի Ասորւոց պատրիարգի, յԵրուսաղէմ 1871 (հավելված էջ 33)։

Մովսէս Կաղանկատուացի, Պատմութիւն Աղուանից, Երևան, 1982, էջ 340։

Մ. Հասրաթյան Հայկական ճարտարապետության Արցախի դպրոցը, էջ 44-49,

Վ. Հարությունյան, Հայկական ճարտարապետության պատմություն, Երևան, 1992, էջ 337-338։

Կիրակոս Գանձակեցի, Պատմություն Հայոց, աշխատասիրությամբ Կ. Մելիք Օհանջանյանի, Երևան, 1961, էջ 215-227։

Լ. Խաչիկյան, Աշխատություններ, հ. Գ, Աղանդավորական գաղափարախոսությունը Հայաստանում 12-14-րդ դդ., Երևան, 2008, էջ 452։

Տեառն Ներսեսի Շնորհալւոյ Բանք չափաւ, Վենետիկ, 1830, էջ 455։


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