Khor Virap’s notability as a monastery and pilgrimage site is attributed to the fact that Gregory the Illuminator was initially imprisoned here for about 14 years by King Tiridates III of Armenia. Saint Gregory subsequently became the king’s religious mentor, and they led the proselytizing activity in the country. In the year 301, Armenia was the first country in the world to be declared a Christian nation. A chapel was initially built in 642 at the site of Khor Virap by Nerses III the Builder as a mark of veneration to Saint Gregory. Over the centuries, it was repeatedly rebuilt. In 1662, the larger chapel known as the “St. Astvatsatsin” (Holy Mother of God) was built around the ruins of the old chapel, the monastery, the refectory and the cells of the monks. Now, regular church services are held in this church. It is one of the most visited pilgrimage sites in Armenia.

The anniversary of the deliverance of Gregory is also celebrated in the Illuminator’s cathedral built in Yerevan. On New Year’s Day, light is brought from Khor Virap as a religious celebration. In a recent event, Catholicos Garegin II climbed down the same deep prison pit where the first Catholicos Grigor had passed many agonizing years, and came out of the pit by holding a lighted candle as symbol of the light that illuminated Armenians several centuries ago. As a pilgrimage centre, people visit Khor Virap for baptism or subsequent to a wedding to perform a matagh animal sacrifice.

The monastery attracts a very large number of tourists, and there are a number of souvenir kiosks here. Of interest for visitors is the releasing of doves from Khor Virap, with the hope they will fly to Mount Ararat.

In the mid-1990s, young volunteers for the Canadian Youth Mission to Armenia, CYMA, helped renovate/restore the cathedral.

Early European visitors to Khor Virap included Joseph Pitton de Tournefort (c. 1700), James Bryce (1876), H. F. B. Lynch (1893).

Recent visitors have included, among others, Pope Francis (2016)[29] and Charles Michel, President of the European Council (2021).

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