Saint Vartan Armenian Cathedral
A replica of a 7th-century church hides in plain sight in the middle of the concrete jungle.
Nestled within the heart of New York City is a church that looks better fitted for the verdant mountainsides of Armenia than the concrete jungle. Even at 120 feet high, it’s still dwarfed by some of Manhattan’s iconic skyscrapers.
Step into the courtyard and head inside, and you’ll feel as though you’ve left the city behind and entered a different world. The cathedral looks like it could be a 1,000-year-old church in some quaint Armenian village. In reality, it’s just 20th-century replica of Armenia’s Saint Hripsime Church, which was built in 681 AD.
If you wander around the building, you’ll find the date 1966 carved in a block protruding from the building. Above it is the same date in Armenian numerals “ՌՆԺԵ.” The huge stone building has a dome covered in shimmering gold leaf, which is a flashy addition unlike anything found in the cathedral it’s modeled after. There are also beautiful stained glass windows and murals adorning the interior.
The cathedral also boasts two features that are unique to Armenian architecture. It uses double-intersecting arches throughout the interior space, which eliminate the need for the columns so familiar in most other large churches. It also has a gilded pyramidal dome reaching 120 feet above the street, which is supported by the drum below it, which is further supported by the aforementioned intersecting arches.
Above the main entrance is a large relief of Saint Vartan, the patron saint of the cathedral, who fought the Persian invaders who attempted to force Christian Armenians to become Zoroastrians. The saint lost the battles, but won the war, as the Persians realized that the Armenians were too stubborn to convert.
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