Artsakh is widely known in the Christian world as being a place concentrated with saints of Christian church. The religious know that Artsakh is a center of Christianity in the South Caucasus, and has preserved all the saints who have sacred meaning for Christians up to this day, with great faith and love.
Perhaps the most well-known is the head of St. John the Baptist, which rests under the altar of the cathedral of the same name in the Gandzasar Monastery.
The head of St. John the Baptist
A precious piece of information about the head of St. John the Baptist, whose head is found in Gandzasar monastery, reached us thanks to the work of the medeival historial Movses Kaghankatvatsi, "About the honest head of St. John the Baptist."
The Holy Bible tells the story of the killing of St. John the Baptist, when Herod, King of Judaea, beheaded the Saint at Salome's command. However, the Bible doesn't give any information about the location of the head of the Saint. The historian Kaghankatvatsi continues the story:
"Two solitaries saw the bright light coming from the ruins of a house and found there the Head, from which this light was coming. They began to wander around curing people. Then a beggar saw John the Baptist in his dream who told him to take the Head from the solitaries who were at that time sleeping in a cave, and go away and he would live a rich life. The beggar put the Head into scrip and started healing many obsessed and sick people. Then the head appeared at a house of a potter, from where it was stolen by a prince and brought to Constantinople. The Catholics, learning about it, wanted to take it from the prince, but he managed to take the relic to Iberia. Here the Holy Head fell into hands of the brother of Hasan Jalalyan – the prince of Artsakh. In 1211 the ruler of Karabakh came to Iberia to ask his brother to give him the Head. But the brother didn’t want to give it on his own will and Hasan Jalalyan took it by force, brought to the capital of his kingdom, his burial vault. He buried it there and built a church in the name of St. John the Baptist, which was consecrated in the great concourse of the clergy (over 700 priests). Many other relics such as the saint jaw of Gregory the Illuminator, the right hand of St. Zachary, the holy relics of St. Panteleimon and others are also concealed in the walls of the monastery."
Gandzasar Monastery with the head of John the Baptist buried under its Holy See has always been one of the main places of pilgrimage in Karabakh and is known for the miracles that have happened there thanks to the sacred Head. The latest miracles happened here in the years of the Karabakh war, when during bombardment the shells, heading straight to the cupola, suddenly changed their direction and exploded far from the monastery. In 1992 two images of Guardian angels appeared high on the walls on both sides of the altar, not having been painted by hand. As the years passed by these images became more clear and now one can see them from the first sight.
St. Apostle of Elisha
After the death of a martyr of St. Thaddaeus, Apl, preaching Christianity in the eastern regions of Armenia in the 1st century AD, one of his disciples Elisha (Eghishe) went to Jerusalem where he was ordained bishop of the eastern countries. Returning to the Caucasus, Apostle of Elisha started preaching Christianity in Derbent and the whole South Caucasus, where besides the local residents large communities of Arameans and Jews lived as well.
Apostle Elisha built the first church in the Caucasus in Gis, where bloodless sacrifice was made. However, some of the pagans who heard his sermons began to pursue him with animosity. Apostle Elisha was martyred in the land of mascuts, the valley of Zergun, and his remains were thrown into a hole. In the second half of the 5th century King Vachagan the Pious got ahold of the relics of the saint and transferred them to Artsakh. They were buried next to him and a chapel was built over the grave. Later a monastery called “St. Elisha Monastery” was built around the chapel. The grave, the grave-stone and the chapel of St. Apostle of Elisha have remained up to the present time. In spite of the difficult terrain in Mardakert region where the monastery is, people who believe in the miracle-working power of the holy relics of Apostle Elisha continue visiting it.
St. Bishop Grigoris
Grandson of Gregory the Illuminator (Lousavorich), son of St. Vartanes, Bishop Grigoris was spreading Christianity in the Caucasus, especially in Georgia and Caucasian Albania in the 30s of the IV century CE. The possessor of Caucasian Albania, heathen Sanesan, seeing that the enlightening activity of Grigoris can undermine the principles of his power, orders to arrest the Saint. Bishop Grigoris was tied to the horse's tail and was launched to the stones until the Saint died. The disciples of Grigoris secretly brought his remains to Artsakh and buried in the outskirts of Amaras village. To evade the violation of the relics the burial place was not marked and was fully forgotten in the course of time.
The relics were discovered in 489. As the historians tell King Vachagan the Pious wished to find the burial place of the Saint and escrted by the clergy and grandees set out in search to Amaras. Priest Mateh and deacon Ovel from the suite of the king had a vision about the burial place. Following the vision they discovered the remains of St. Grigoris as well as the vessel with the relics of St. Panteleymon and St. Zacharia. A temple was built over the relics which has remained to our days under the altar of the church of Amaras monastery.
According to the historian Movses Kaghankatvatsi the grave of Bishop Grigoris has been the holy place from the earliest times. '' Childless couples were coming here for a pilgrimage, taking a bit of holy soil and usually had children later. People suffering fever also were taking soil and were cured later.''