My book Why Religions Work explores religious tolerance issues. It could not be more relevant at the moment with the world in its present state.
This blog has concentrated recently on the wonderful pilgrimages I have been on - to the Holy Land and to Turkey and more recently to Holy Georgia , Greece "In the Steps of St Paul" , Ethiopia and most recently my experiences in Iran.

"If I was allowed another life I would go to all the places of God's Earth. What better way to worship God than to look on all his works?" from The Chains of Heaven: an Ethiopian Romance Philip Marsden

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Pilgrimage to Turkey: the Ancient Armenian City of Ani

exterior animal carvings on Church of St Gregory Ani 
I mentioned already that it was sometimes difficult to remember on this trip that we were pilgrims first, not tourists.
We were urged regularly by our long-suffering leaders that the first thing we should do at each place visited was to be quiet, reflective and prayerful. 
Photos could follow later. It has to be said that we didn’t always remember this advice. 

But once inside the church of St Gregory, commissioned by the wealthy Armenian merchant Tigran Honents, finished in 1215 AD and easily the best preserved monument at Ani, the pilgrim in us took over completely. The interior was simply fabulous, adorned with the most beautiful frescoes, which depict the life of Christ, the life of Saint Gregory the Illuminator and scenes from the life of St. Nino, who converted the Georgians to Christianity. In the narthex or outer lobby area and its chapel fragmentary frescoes survive that are more Byzantine in style. The church is tucked away down the side of the gorge and hidden from immediate view from the main path. It meant a bit of a clamber down a reasonable pathway that sadly some found too challenging; because the rewards were great. The exterior of the church is also quite simply stunning. Its setting nestled into the side of the cliff down into the deep gorge is special enough. But it is decorated on all its four sides with ornate stone carvings of animals, both real and imaginary which were quite marvellous. As I gazed in delight at these wonders, my attention was caught by the most haunting and beautiful sound coming from inside the church. I listened outside for a while, captivated.
The church of St Gregory, Ani 
Then I forgot my camera and hastened to the doorway. There within was a member of our group, a deacon from Iraq, singing something that brought me out in goose bumps.
The sound was captivating, and a deeply spiritual moment for me and I suspect for many others. It was only afterwards when he had finished that I learnt he was singing the Lord’s Prayer in Aramaic. None of us really wanted to spoil this moment for quite some while as we all stood, united as pilgrims, to reflect on the past history of this place, full of reminders of the glories of Armenian Christianity in another age long ago.

 The ensuing and deeply spiritual silence in this beautiful church was finally brought to a gentle finale by the bishop leading us in saying the Kyries;
Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy. And we all stumbled out from the gloom into the light with tears in the eyes of more than a few of us.

There is simply no shortage of information available about this site, in guide books, websites and web reviews from the many travellers who are drawn to this important place. Most stress that it takes 4 or 5 hours to do it justice, and advise carrying a picnic and a water bottle. For us it was cold, but at least sunny, and there is a perfectly adequate restaurant off site for lunch time refreshment.

During the morning we wondered all over the ruins, visiting not only the said church of St Gregory, but also exploring the massive cathedral (or church of the Holy Mother of God, started in 989 but not finished for another 12 or so years), the Church of the Holy Apostles, the mosque of Minuchir and the Citadel, the highest point, from where we had a panoramic view of the whole area. I was personally fascinated by the ruins of the houses, with fireplaces, niches for ornaments perhaps, and signs of an underfloor heating system.

More about all this tomorrow with lots more photos of Ani....

more of the outside of the church of St Gregory of Tigran Honents at Ani

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