Khor Virap Monastery: The History of Foundation
Literally, translated from Armenian Khor Virap means “deep pit” or “deep well.” Earlier on the territory of Khor Virap was situated ancient Armenian capital Artashat, which was built about in 180 B.C. by King Artashes I, founder of the Artashesids dynasty. On the upper slopes of the hills, extensive excavations have revealed the base of residential and other types of buildings, as well as artifacts in a Mediterranean style, and other traces of a rich Hellenistic culture.
On the hill where the church now stands, was a pit-prison for persons who were sentenced to death. According to the legend in the pit for Christian preaching was concluded Gregory the Illuminator. King Tiridates, who worshiped pagan gods, ordered to sent the Illuminator into the deep well. Gregory the Illuminator spent long 14 years among snakes and poisonous insects in Khor Virap. And then one day he fell ill and according to legend, adopted the behavior of a wild boar, aimlessly wandering around in the forest. His sister Princes Khosrovidukht, had a dream where Gregory was still alive in the dungeon and he was the only one able to cure the king. She ordered her servants to release the Illuminator. At first no one believed her, but then after she saw the same dream several times, Gregory was released and taken to the king. He healed Tiridates, after what the King accepted Christianity for the Armenian people. Armenia became the first state in the world to adopt Christianity as its official religion, in 301 AD.
Later in 642, the Catholicos Nerses the Builder built a chapel above the underground prison.