The small town of Adilcevaz, whose medieval Armenian name was Ardzgue, is located beside the shores of Lake Van and at the base of a wide, well-watered valley. About six kilometres inland this valley splits into two at the base of a massive spur with precipitous cliffs. At the summit of that spur lies the Urartian town and temple site known as Kefkalesi. The Monastery of the Miracles is reached by a track that runs up the left side of the left-hand valley. At the base of the track there are the scattered remains of an Armenian graveyard, the stones of which appear to be mostly re-used Urartian blocks. After reaching the monastery the track continues up the valley and eventually reaches the northern edge of the Kefkalesi site. Probably this route (rather than the current route which goes up the right-hand valley) was the original way to Kefkalesi.

History of the Monastery

The closeness to Kefkalesi may suggest some sort of continuity from an Urartian religious site. Large blocks of stone that are clearly Urartian in origin can be seen in the foundations of the church. However, it is not possible to say if these were taken from Kefkalesi or from an Urartian structure that was on the site of the monastery.

It is believed that the earliest known mention of this monastery is from the second quarter of the 8th century when, according to the Acts of the Martyrs, Vahan of Goghthen stayed there. He was the son of a local Armenian ruler and had been taken by the Arabs to Syria and raised as a Muslim. He was later sent back to Armenia to govern his territory under Arab suzerainty. However, as soon as he arrived he renounced Islam, returned to Christianity, came to Adilcevas, and retired into a nearby hermitage called Erashkhavor. His abandonment of Islam would eventually lead to his martyrdom around the year 737. Erashkhavor, which means Monastery of the Protector, is probably an earlier name for Sk'ants'elagorgivank. However, it is possible that Erashkhavor may have been another, now vanished, monastery that was also close to Adilcevaz.

The importance of the monastery arose from its possession of certain relics that were believed to have the power to cure disease. This accounts for its later name being Sk'ants'elagorgivank, the "Monastery of the Miracles". Until about the 14th century a relic known as the "Holy Emblem of War" affected these cures. After that time a second relic gradually superseded it. This new relic was a piece of a large bronze caldron that had been found, buried in the ground, by the monks during an epidemic of pestilence. It came to be believed that this was the basin in which Jesus had been washed in just after His birth. It is likely that what the monks had actually uncovered was part of an Urartian caldron.

During the 14th, 15th, and 16th centuries the monastery housed a scriptorium. About 20 manuscripts have been identified as having being created there.

At the end of the 19th century the monastery was still wealthy and owned much land. In 1893 an earthquake struck Adilcevas, destroying many houses. It is not know if the monastery was affected. In 1895 the monastery was attacked and robbed by Kurds, who also burned down the monastery's supplementary buildings. These were rebuilt at the start of the 20th century and the monastery continued to operate until 1915.

The whole of the drum and dome was intact when Thierry surveyed it in the late 1960s. Half of it has now collapsed: this happened probably during the 1980s (it had definitely collapsed by 1992).


A wall surrounded the monastery. It is now visible only as low foundations. Of the various monastic buildings that once stood within the wall, only the church remains standing.

To the south of the monastery there was a graveyard. A spring of water flows from a spot near to the south-west corner of the monastery, and there is also a small stream to the north-west of the monastery.

Although the church appears homogeneous on the outside, its interior actually comprises two distinct sections. At the eastern end is the church proper, at the western end is an annex in the form of a rectangular compartment that Thierry considered to be a sort of zhamatun. This is probably a correct assumption. An important fact not noticed by Thierry is that this western compartment was constructed later than the church: part of the original outer face of the church's west façade can be seen against the east end of the north wall of the annex. This indicates that the western compartment was a later addition, which means that the church and the western annex should be considered as separate structures.

The design of this church is unique in Armenian architecture. It is a variation on the cross-in-square type of plan. However, the western supports are not the usual solid walls or thick pillars but are free-standing columns.

The closest parallels can be seen in churches from the middle Byzantine period (12th to 14th centuries CE) found in Greece and western Anatolia. How this plan found itself reproduced at Adilcevas, 300 years later, has not yet been explained. The answer is probably that there is no connection, and that this church's design came about partially a result of innovation, partly a development from more traditional plans, and partly from the influences of nearby Islamic structures. For example, Armenian churches which have western free-standing supports in the form of pillars are not common, but they do exist, and short columns like those in this church can be found in the Emir Bayindir Kumbetli in nearby Ahlat.

Other details of the design are as follows. The apse was raised up in relation to the nave, and is lit by a single window. The arms of the church have vaults with slightly pointed arches. The drum was circular inside, octagonal outside, and was pierced by four small windows. The dome was a half sphere and was roofed by a pyramidal cap. The external transition from the base of the drum to the roof of the nave is accomplished via triangular planes, in the same manner as that found on Islamic kumbets. The church was well lit. In addition to the windows in the drum and apse, there were large windows in the north and south arms of the church, and in the north and south walls of the western annex. There were also two windows superimposed over the entrance to the church. The church had no frescoes - the only decorative elements were carved ones.

The lack of a normal zhamatun, and the absence of any door between the western compartment and the main church, suggests that there was a difference in the ceremonies that took place in this church when compared to other monasteries. The reason for this may be down to its possession of the disease-curing relic: perhaps the need for access by large numbers of pilgrims precluded the construction of a typical zhamatun.

The Date of Construction

The church has no surviving dedicatory inscriptions, though a graffiti inscription is dated 1720. However, design features can be used to give an estimate of the date of construction.

The use of triangles as a transition between the drum and roof has been mentioned earlier. This feature can be found in other late medieval churches in the Van region. These include the Saint Thomas monastery on the Deveboynu peninsula, which dates from 1671, and the Saint Argelan monastery near Muradiye (Berkri) which is from the end of the 17th century. It is a design feature that has probably been derived from Islamic kumbets - of which there are many examples in the Lake Van region.

Nothing now remains of the entrance to the church, but parts of it were still in-situ in the 1970s. The doorframe had three decorative elements. It had an outside border carved with an interlace of stylised palmettes, next was a semi-engaged column with a twisted beaded moulding, finally there was a smaller inner border decorated with half circles. Almost identical palmettes can be found on the doorframes of the zhamatun at Varagavank, which dates from 1648. These doorframes also have the same shallow stalactite mouldings as the capitals in this church. So, it is probable that the Monastery of the Miracles church was constructed sometime between the middle and the end of the 17th century. An earthquake is known to have taken place in 1648 that destroyed many churches in the Van region. This may have been the event that required the construction of an entirely new church at the Monastery of the Miracles.

Thierry, Jean-Michel, Monastères Arméniens du Vaspurakan in Revue des Études Arméniennes, volume IX, 1972, pages 138-146.

1.   The site of the monastery, seen from Kefkalesi

2.   Kefkalesi - part of the temple within the fortress

3.   The monastery overlooks the town of Adilcevaz

4.   The church, with Kefkalesi in the background

5.   The north facade - click for a larger photo

6.   The west facade of the church

7.   The octagonal drum of the dome

8.   The south facade has now entirely collapsed
- click for a larger photo

9.   Only half of the dome survives
- click for a larger photo

10.   The apse and the surviving freestanding column - click for a larger photo

11.   Close-up of the freestanding column

12.   View from the apse, looking north-west
- click for a larger photo

13.   Inside the western annex, looking north-east