Khachkars (“cross-stones” or “baptized stones”) became widely known after the 9th century when they ousted the tall four-sided plate decorated with reliefs on religious scenes that had prevailed from the 4th to 7th centuries.
Khachkars played an important and varied role in the life of the medieval Armenia. Their carved inscriptions indicate that they were built for many different reasons: a victory, the foundation of a village, the completion of a church or bridge. But most commonly Khachkars were gravestones, they were placed at the foot of the grave opposite the tombstone, bearing a framed epitaph sometimes on the front, but more often on the reverse side, and the name of the mason.
For all their diversity, the basic design was always the same-the Cross treated as the Tree of Life and growing from a grain or the solar symbol, often decorated with an ornamental core and offshoots. The skull which is sometimes seen at the foot of the Cross symbolizes the head of Adam whose sin was redeemed by the death of the Saviour (Adam was believed to have been buried on Golgotha; later the scene of the Crucifixion). Sometimes in the upper stone, above the larger cross, there are representations of the sun and the moon or their respective symbols. This is obviously an allusion to the day of crucifixion, when both the Sun and Moon were seen together over Calvary. In other words, Khachkars are to be regarded as representations of the Crucifixion scene in which the figures were replaced by symbols. This view is supported by the very few Khachkars with figures on which all the traditional characters, Jesus, the Virgin and St. John, St. Joseph of Arimathea, Nicodemus, and the Apostles appear. Usually over the scene of the Crucifixion, the Ascension was represented. Armenians called these sculpted Khachkars “All Saviour” and they regarded them as sacred.