“The Holy Lance that pierced Jesus Christ is on loan to the “Armenia!” Exhibit at New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art”, said a sign at the Cathedral Museum of the c The Mother See of Holy Echmiadzin is the governing body of the Armenian Apostolic Church. It is headquartered around Etchmiadzin Cathedral in Vagharshapat(Etchmiadzin), Armenia and is the seat of the Catholicos of All Armenians, the head of the church. 1
I visited the Museum in late August as part of the Holy Martyrs Church of Bayside Pilgrimage. Other relics were on loan to the New York City Metropolitan “Armenia!” exhibit. “We came to Armenia to see important early Christian relics,” I said. “Well, I am going to the “Armenia!” exhibit in New York City to understand a nation that played a dominant role in my Hellenic/Byzantine heritage.”
The Holy Lance was not placed in a prominent position in the exhibit. It was overshadowed by other treasures. Why is the Holy Lance, probably, the most important early Christian relic displayed? One of the most mysterious relics of the Armenian Church—a sacred object from the deepest roots of Christianity—is the Holy Lance of Keghart.
Long associated with the medieval monastery of that name, it is currently housed in the museum of the Mother See of Holy Echmiadzin, and taken out on rare occasions for public veneration, or to be used in the most solemn church ceremonies—like the blessing of the Holy Muron (Holy Oil every seven years).2
The Metropolitan Museum’s description states..” the lance used by the Roman centurion Longinus to pierce Christ’s side at the Crucifixion was brought to Armenia by Saint Thaddeus the apostle (1st century AD.). In 1268, Prince Khaghbakean of the Proshian family commissioned a silver repository for the Holy Lance, which he then donated to the monastery of Ayrivank‘, which became known as Geghardavank‘, or the “Monastery of the Lance.” This container is a later restoration of the original.”3 What is amazing is the “Holy Spear” survived the Persian invasions and the Communist, Atheistic Russian regime. Its survival is a testament of the Armenian nation’s belief in their Christian faith.
I searched the Echmiadzin Museum for early Christian relics. Signs saying, “on loan to the “Armenia!” Exhibit at New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art,” were present. The NYC Met “Armenia!” exhibit has the following early Christian relics: Reliquary of the “Holy Cross of the Vegetarians” (Khotakerats”); Cross of King Ashot II Yerkat (the Iron) and Case(late 9th-early 10th century); Reliquary Cross with Relics of Saint John the Baptist; Reliquary Cross with Relics of Saint George and Arm Reliquary of Saint Nicholas. He/she must travel overseas to see arm and religious reliquaries. We are all lucky as Americans to see these religious relics at the “Armenia!” exhibit.
The Cross of King Ashot II Yerkat (the Iron) and Case, Byzantine and Armenian culture, according to Armenian tradition, was made by Saint Thaddeus the apostle (1st century) and later brought to the monastery of Sevan where a relic of the True Cross given to King Ashot I was inserted at its center. Later when King Ashot II (the Iron) successfully led seventy warriors and a battalion of monks from Sevan against an Arab contingent in 923, his name also became associated with this Holy Cross of Sevan.4
A Reliquary of the “Holy Cross of the Vegetarians” (Khotakerats”) has a richly jeweled cross on the reliquary’s interior contains a fragment of the True Cross. The donor was Prince Each‘i Proshian in the 1300”s, whose wealth came form his control of the trade routes for the Mongols.5
The Reliquary Cross with Relics of Saint John the Baptist was made in Adana, Cilicia, that is now part of Southern Turkey. In his History of the Armenians, the early Armenian historian Agat‘angeghos wrote that Saint Gregory the Illuminator brought relics of Saint John the Baptist to Armenia.6
The Arm Reliquary of Saint Nicholas, 1315, is the oldest arm reliquary to survive from Cilicia with elements from other works added when it was restored in 1926. The image on the hand and the 1315 dedicatory inscription by Catholicos Kostandin III identify it as the arm of Saint Nicholas, the patron saint of merchants and sailors. 7 The Reliquary Cross with Relics of Saint George was made for a revered pilgrimage church dedicated to Saint George at the monastery of Lim. The relic at the center is from the saint’s skull. 8
I discovered in Armenia and the NYC Metropolitan Museum of Art that there is more to Armenia than the “Genocide”. They have a rich civilization of art, architecture and literature. In one word: they are survivors. The Armenians are the last of the early Christians. The Genocide, Communist atheistic regime of Russia, 1988 Armenian Earthquake, dissolution of the Soviet Union that created a free Armenia with a reduction of economic wealth that they are still trying to rebuild and the Nagorno-Karabkh War with Azerbajian war have shaped the past 100 years of their history.
Christian sites have been wiped out in the Middle East and Asia because: the Western Christian Church’s support of the Crusades in the 1100’s to 1200”s, aggression of Asian nations, Global powers in the Middle East and Asia and the atheistic communist regime of Russia. The fact there is an Armenia and an Armenian nation is due to their cultural inheritance: Christianity and nation are joined. Visiting the first Christian nation created in 301 AD is a visit to the “Holy Land”. They are the only remaining ancient Christian people with a nation , besides Greece. built on language, religion and culture. Armenians are a people who preferred dying for their Christian faith in the face of Invaders.
My appreciation to the following persons who inspired this article: Professor Ashot Nersisyan, Doctor of the Historical Sciences, Professor of the Yerevan State University’s Chair of Armenian History, A genuine member of the Humanities Academy, President of the Zoravar Sebouh, historical-political analytical Centre and associates; Rev. Fr. Abraham Malkhasyan who personally invited me to join the Pilgrimage; Aram Ciamician, who organized the Pilgrimage without personal gain, his spouse Lara, mother Araksi and their network at the Armenian Church of the Holy Martyrs, Bayside, New York. Echmiadzin photographs by Lara Ciamician.