Geghard Monastery is beautifully located in a gorge and is surrounded by high hills on three sides. There are fairy chimneys on one of the cliffs and the walking opportunities appear to be excellent. Legend has it the monastery dates from the 4th Century AD and was burned by Arab armies in 923AD. The main church is called the Holy Mother of God Church and dates from around 1215.
The oldest part of the monastery is either in a cave or was hollowed out of the rock depending on whom I talked to. The truth is probably a combination of the two where a cave was made larger to accommodate a congregation. In one corner of this rock church there’s an opening where I could peer down and see people visiting the church below, which was a very odd feeling almost like I was spying on them and intruding in their prayers.
In another part of the monastery water was flowing freely from the rock and was being channelled along the floor. Armenian visitors were splashing water over themselves as according to the legend, this water will keep their skin youthful. In many places, the monastery would be bottling this water and selling it in the gift shop, so credit to Geghard for not doing so. This was the first monastery where I saw on the altar a depiction of Mary and Jesus, meaning that public masses can be held in this space. If there’s no Mary and Jesus, then the public can’t attend masses.