The Artistry of St. Vartan Cathedral

Its Architectural Heritage

The cathedral's architectural plan is patterned after the 4th-century church of St. Hripsime in Armenia, and includes two distinctive features of Armenian Church architecture. 

The first is the use of the double-intersecting arches to span the interior space, which eliminated the need for the supporting columns familiar in other types of churches. In early Armenian churches, these arches were stone; for St. Vartan Cathedral, the architects substituted steel, which eliminated the need for massive supporting walls.

The second feature is the pyramidal dome, which soars 120 feet above the street level. The dome is supported by a drum, 27 feet high and 45 feet in diameter, which is supported in turn by the intersecting arches. 

Around the dome are various Christian symbols: the Armenian equivalent of "I am"; the eye, set within a triangle, representing  the omniscience of the Triune God; the figure of Jesus Christ; the Holy Spirit represented by a dove; a ship for the Church; the Greek letters alpha and omega superimposed on the scriptures, symbolizing God as the beginning and end of all things; wheat and grapes representing the Eucharist; a heart, an anchor, and a cross symbolizing love, hope, and faith; the Phoenix, the legendary bird of reincarnation, symbolizing resurrection. 

The New York architectural firm Steinman, Cain & White, with Edward Utudjian of Paris as a consultant designed the cathedral.

The Art that Fills the Cathedral

The artist Bogdan Grom depicted scenes of the story of the creation in the eight pierced windows of the drum; for the skylight windows, he chose to represent symbolically the four evangelists Matthew (the Angel-man), Mark (the Lion), Luke (the Ox), and John (the Eagle).  The same symbols appear on the door handles of the Cathedral.

Below the dome, a series of high, narrow, stained-glass windows, each crowned with a rounded arch, are set into the main walls of the cathedral.  Two of the windows depict scenes in the life of Christ—the Annunciation, the Nativity, the Baptism, the Passion, the Crucifixion, and the Resurrection. 

Another set of windows depicts scenes form the book of Genesis and the early history of Christianity in Armenia, including the settling of Noah's Ark on Mt. Ararat and portraits of the Apostles Thaddeus and Bartholomew, as well as Santookht, the first woman martyr in Armenian history.  The profit Ezekiel is shown with an angel reaching out toward the skeletons below, commemorating the 2 million Armenians massacred in the Ottoman Empire in 1915. 

The patron saint of the cathedral, St. Vartan, is depicted fighting the Persians who threatened the Armenian Church during the 5th century. The invention of the Armenian alphabet is remembered in portraits of St. Sahag and St. Mesrob. The ecumenical Council of Nicaea (325 A.D.), which produced the Nicene Creed, is illustrated in three scenes form the Council.  Finally, the spirit of ecumenicism is symbolized in the portrait of St. Nersess and the crosses of Christendom.