One of the major monumental landmarks in T‘alin, a town in today’s Aragatson province in Armenia, is its cathedral. The exact date of the construction of the cathedral is unknown. On the grounds of the architectural form and stylistic features, the building was likely erected in the second half of the seventh century.
The construction of the cathedral is associated with the Armenian family of the Kamsarakans. The Kamsarakans derived their name from Armenian Prince Kamsar (d. 325) and traced their lineage back to the Karen Pahlav, one of the seven chief houses of Iran that claimed Arsacid origin. Based in Eruandašat, the Kamsarakans were closely linked to Byzantine political circles and took an active role in the administrative and cultural development of the Ayrarat (Ararat)-Aršarunik region. The demise of the dynasty came towards the late eighth century, when after an unsuccessful revolt against the Arabs, the Kamsarakans succumbed to the rising power of the Bagratids.
Founded by the Kamsarakans, the cathedral at T‘alin is a domed basilica. It is built of a combination of black and red tufa stones. The building has a trefoil plan, which is formed by three apses on the east, north and south sides of the building. On the west side, the cathedral has a barrel vault that rises over a rectangular nave. The west arm of the church is divided into three aisles. The east arm of the church has an altar at its centre, flanked by two small chambers. The dome rises almost in the centre of the cathedral. It rests on four free-standing piers, which are linked by round arches. Over the arches is a dodecagonal drum. It is pierced with windows and supported by pendentives.
The cathedral is famous for its fresco decoration in the east apse, now fragmentary, featuring an open book on a cushioned throne. Other decoration includes scenes from the life of Christ, such as Entrance to Jerusalem. Additional images of Christ, Mary and the apostles are depicted above and around the apse. The sculptural decoration of the cathedral also includes vegetal motifs (leaves and scrolls), which appear on the capitals of columns and arches, and blind arcades, which rest on slender double colonnettes on the exterior walls of the building.
According to an inscription written on two adjacent blocks on the southwestern pier, the cathedral was endowed with a water source by Uxtaytur monk and his brother Tuti. This took place in 232 of the Armenian era, which corresponds to the period between 15 May 783 and 13 May 784. The inscription contains a protective curse, warning of punishment (“may he be liable for my sins”) for anyone who decides to destroy the water source . The epigraphic record reflects then a concern on behalf of the donor Uxtaytur for the survival of his bequest. Nevertheless, information about the life and activities of the monk Uxtaytur and his brother Tuti, who were engaged in supporting the cathedral almost a century after its foundation, is lacking in historical sources.
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The dome and the southwestern part of the church were destroyed during subsequent earthquakes in 1840, 1919, and 1931. The renovation of the cathedral was undertaken in 1947, 1959, and in the early 1970s.
- Der Nersessian, Sirarpie. Armenia and the Byzantine Empire. A Brief Study of Armenian Art and Civilization (Harvard University Press, 1945), 71.
- Казарян, Армен. Церковная архитектура стран Закавказья VII века: формирование и развитие традиции (Seventh Century Church Architecture of Transcaucasian Countries: Formation and Development of Tradition), Том II (Москва, 2012), 146-155.
- Toumanoff, Cyril. “Kamsarakan”, Encyclopedia Iranica. Available online: (http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/kamsarakan)
- Greenwood, Timothy. “A Corpus of Early Medieval Armenian Inscriptions,” Dumbarton Oaks Papers 58 (2004): 27-91.