Romel Jacinto, "Church of the Redeemer - Ani" /via

Romel Jacinto, "Church of the Redeemer - Ani" /via

But, They Are Not In Ani

by | September 14th, 2010 | 2 comments
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It was the title — The Thousand and One Churches — that drew me to the book.

“A book about Ani,” I thought to myself.  “And, by two distinguished archeologists — Sir William A. Ramsey and Gertrude L. Bell.” Wondering why I had not heard of it before, I quickly acquired a copy. Published by the University of Pennsylvania’s Museum of Archeology and Anthropology, it is a reprint of the original published in 1909 about their work in 1907, and which is long out-of-print.

Alas, “Churches” (to use shorthand, for ease) is not about Ani and its historic churches. But it is about “monuments [that] have long disappeared,” the editors of the new edition state.

It is about the churches near Konya (about 650 miles, more or less, to the southwest of Ani), and there aren’t 1001 churches. They are Greek churches, but with references to the “Latin” and many to Armenian churches — but none are nearby.

This is a serious book for archeologists, architects (especially church architects), and, to a lesser degree, historians.  For anyone else, it pays to have an unabridged dictionary at hand — my “Webster 2” came in handy.

In an explanation that says much about the Turks of the neighborhood, the original authors, referring to the “thousand and one churches,” say, “The number is an Oriental fancy: there are about twenty-eight churches in the valley … ”  And go on to comment in a footnote:

The Turks have four typical numbers, used commonly in local names, 3, 7, 40 and 1001 … A Turkish officer, … with characteristic looseness as to details; … 40 and 1001 were to him of the same import, a vague large number.

The area’s name is “Bin Bir Kilisse,” which the authors tell us means “Thousand and One Churches.” Actually, the authors talk about 48 structures.

But, to go on.

From the non-technical point of view, what is most interesting about the work is that the authors make statements that beg explanations, but never drop the other shoe.

They say, “The Christians seemed to have disappeared,” but don’t venture an opinion as to why. They refer to the “destruction of a church” (which they had seen several years earlier) but don’t offer an explanation. Indeed, there is no offered opinion why all the churches are in ruins (there was no church anywhere near a complete condition), and why so many nearby homes, stables, and out-buildings have stones from one or other of the churches. Perhaps, that is not the role of the archeologist.

But, in for a Penny, in for a Pound, I decided to finish the book and prepare this review, in case there are readers interested in the subject.

There are many references to things-Anatolian and things-Near East, sometimes referring to styles and sometimes to the geographic area. To someone searching for things-Armenian, it was a bit frustrating. However, in Sir William’s Preface to the original book, he quotes another archeologist who referred to an eleventh-century restoration of an older church as having been done “by the Armenians.”

Although there are no references to Armenian churches in the first two Parts of the book, which appear to have been written alternately by Sir William and Miss Bell, the reader gets a detailed introduction to church design, style, or type, in the text or a footnote. The references about the Armenian churches appear throughout the less technical essay/narrative Part III about Ecclesiastical Architecture, which was written by Miss Bel — she was, after all, the amateur of the team.

Therefore, what follows, here, may be long or short, may be complete statements or fragments, may enlighten or may confuse. They are presented chronologically.

In discussing Architectural Traditions of the area, we read: “probably it would be safe to say that along the coast of Asia Minor the Hellenistic influence was predominant, while upon the [Anatolian] plateau the unadulterated East, Mesopotamia, Persia, Armenia, held the greater sway.” After geographically moving eastward and to the peoples who influenced the areas, Miss Bell says: “Farther east our ignorance is yet more complete … Armenia is equally unknown … ”

However, the Armenian contributions to church architecture were not “unknown” to Josef Strzygowski, the art historian who was one of the earliest people to discover and highly praise the architects of ancient Armenia. In a footnote to a discussion about a particular style of architecture, Miss Bell refers to Strzygowski’s observation that the best example of that style of architecture was built by Basil the Macedonian in his palace in Constantinople, in the ninth century, and “He considers that it may possibly have been derived from Armenia … ”

In a long discussion of the basilica style of church, Miss Bell says, “It is scarcely necessary to call attention to the basilicas of North Syria and of the country most closely allied to Syria, Cilicia … My own observation shows a tendency to its disappearance as I travelled eastward, and Armenia would seem to have employed it but little if at all.” However, in a footnote and seemingly to contradict herself, she says:

It has been suggested with great probability that most of them belong to the period of the kingdom of Lesser Armenia or were largely restored by the Armenians. One I had already signalised as Armenian.  It is interesting to observe that the Armenian builders adopted the basilica of the country.

Later, and still in the discussion of the basilica style, Miss Bell observes of a particular ruin:

The ground plan shows a close resemblance to that of a barn church of Armenian origin on the acropolis of Anazarbus.  The church bears a memorial inscription to Theodore, son of Constantine, King of Lesser Armenia, who reigned from 1100 to 1120.  It was he who took Anazarbus from the Byzantine emperors and made it his capital … Political conditions in Cilicia were very different from those on the Anatolian plateau, and there is no reason to suppose that the Kara Dagh [the area the pair were excavating], which lay in the centre of the Seljuk power, would have retained, after the Seljuk invasion of 1027, any Christian population important enough to have erected churches or capable of doing so. But this does not exclude the possibility of direct Armenian influence before the Seljuk conquest …

Armenia is listed among the countries whose architects adopted the horseshoe arch, which forms part of the basilica style. “It is but another of the many proofs of the markedly Oriental character of the Anatolian plateau.”

In the discussion about Doors and their placement to the entrances of churches, Miss Bell comments: “The side door, with or without the porches found not only in Asia Minor, but in Syria and Armenia; Strzygowski sees in it another proof of the common origin of the architecture of these countries.”

When she is discussing the upper Galleries of church design, and says, “These galleries have already been mentioned as appearing in some, but not all, of the Oriental basilicas of the fourth and fifth centuries,” she indicates they are “typical of the centralised church in most parts of the empire … — not however in Armenia, and the omission is significant.” Tantalizingly, she doesn’t explain the significance!

When she is deep into the discussion (with examples) of the Cruciform shape, she brings in the difference between a cross-in-square church and a cross-shaped church, saying of the former that “it has been suggested that [it] had no independent origin, but was developed out of the domed basilica, which was a creation of Constantinople and the coast lands.”  Miss Bell then states:

The possibility of Armenian influence cannot, however, be dismissed. At Edgmiatsin [sic] the cross-in-square is found as early as the late sixth or early seventh century, and the form recurs at Ani. So far as I know the churches at Edgmiatsin are the earliest examples of the cross-in-square. They … exhibit no trace of being derived from the domed basilica.

That the archeologists did not agree among themselves on church history comes to the fore as Miss Bell discusses rock-cut churches and then goes on to show further examples of differing opinions when she says, “Together with this [the previous discussion] it must be borne in mind that the cross-in-square is far beyond all others the typical architectural form of Armenia where it is found at an early date. Whether Armenia borrowed from Constantinople or Constantinople from Armenia I do not venture to decide.”  After introducing the differing opinions, which will be omitted here, except to note that Strzygowski believed that even until the ninth century “Constantinople was acquiring new architectural forms from the eastern provinces,” Miss Bell comments that “Asia Minor appears to be more closely linked to Inner Asia [sic], to Armenia and Mesopotamia than to Constantinople and … I regard the cross-in-square as a scheme not indigenous to the [Anatolian] plateau … ”

After a long discussion on the Octagonal church, Miss Bell abruptly states: “The octagonal form is common in Armenia. At Ani it is found frequently” [and, in a footnote cites two archeologists, about one of whom she says that his work contains “good illustrations of the chapels of St. Gregory and of the Redeemer … ”]; at Edgmiatsin a singularly interesting variant has recently been excavated, the martyrium of St. Gregory, which dates from the year 650” and she states in another footnote that “Strzygowski … compares it with the Charlemagne’s church at Aix, which belongs certainly to this group, and may well be due to direct Armenian inspiration.” High praise indeed!

And, she continues, “If I were to draw the definition of the character in Asia Minor yet closer I should say that the peculiarities presented there are applicable to all the architectures of the plateau and shared by Armenia.”

In her discussion about the Vault form, and the dome, Miss Bell says: “There is yet another means of setting the dome upon a square base, the Persian squinch [a type of support], which continued to be employed in Armenia in the seventh and eighth centuries, and in Persia itself till the eleventh.” In her footnote, she cites a source which says, “The squinch is constant in the churches of the Caucasus.” Well, it should be, since many experts credit the Armenian architect with solving the problem of setting a dome on a square base.

When giving some examples of the dome on the square base, she says, “It is to be seen … in a very remarkable church at Khakh, near Diarbekr [sic], which I place in the fourth or early fifth century.” While it is possible that the Persians were erecting structures with a dome, it is highly unlikely that the domed church near Diarbekr was Persian-built! But, I am not an archeologist, nor a historian.

In introducing the topic of Brick and Stone Architecture, Miss Bell begins, “The material used by the builders of the Anatolian plateau is stone; in this respect, as in many others, Asia Minor resembles Central and North Syria and Armenia.” There are no further references to anything Armenian, in this discussion, although one cannot be sure, as she makes so many geographic references that could be to things-Armenian.

Early in her discussion of Monasteries, she makes the sad comment that “The drawing of these plans [of the monasteries] is neither pleasant nor an easy matter owing to the hopeless state of decay into which most of the monasteries have fallen.” Again, no comment is made as to why.

She goes on to say: “The monastery of Edgmiatsin in Armenia might in its present form rival any of the Carolingian plans [which she had been discussing], and though a great part of it is modern, much is probably rebuilt on older foundations.” Later, discussing the opinions of others about the shape of monasteries, she quotes one who “has declared the oldest monastic plan to have been square; the fortified monasteries of … Armenia (Edgmiatsin) are good examples to prove his case … ”

When she gets around to the discussion of Fortresses and the work of the Emperor Justinian in this regard, she indicates that “His fortresses were set along the confines of the Syrian desert, they watched over the fertile plains of Northern Mesopotamia and guarded the eastern parts of Asia Minor against the mountain tribes of Armenia … ”

She doesn’t explain further that this would be about the first half of the sixth century. Interestingly, and a sidelight, perhaps the “mountain tribes” were fortunate that Justinian settled for fortresses and not an outright war, since one of Justinian’s greatest generals (and who is credited with saving Rome) was Narces [sic], the Armenian-born Persian!

It is just about here that Miss Bell ends her long Part IV.  Sir William’s Part V is devoted exclusively to the Greek churches and their (partial) inscriptions and the like.

The 614-page book has no Bibliography (the footnotes will have to serve), and has a ten-page Index which is specialized and very limited. The book is a photographic reproduction of the original and carries no maps, nor did the editors of this edition add any. There are 386 “figures,” both photographs and drawings, almost all of which illustrate details of the structures or ruins shown in the photos.

Although no Armenian inscriptions are shown — only Greek — I suspect that many of the structures referred to may have been Armenian. It is a pity that the pair — so apparently knowledgeable about Armenian church architecture — didn’t visit the obviously Armenian churches of the Ottoman Empire and, especially, Ani, the real site of The Thousand and One Churches.


  1. Ed says:

    We Armenians need to understand that we can’t expect others to say how good and great we are or were and sacrifice their interests for ours. History, religion, geography and politics have ensured that we are separate and often different in many senses of the word. We need to understand that we are our only hope if we are to survive and build upon our heritage. Otherwise we will go the way many other great but now extinct societies have gone.

  2. anne chung says:

    I’m planning a trip to Ani next year and I’ve just purchased ‘Thousand and one churches’ thinking its about the Armenian churches in Ani. I just found out too, they’re not in Ani.Armenians and those interested in history has the responsibility to write their own books and set the record straight. For too long we’ve left this task to academicians who don’t care but who want to appease their Turkish masters.Armenians must return to their ancestral home in Eastern Turkey and write new books!