Structure: Marr-Orbeli site 109a.|
Other designations: the citadel church; the church of Saints Sargis and T'oros;
the Kamsarakan church; church of Absalon.
This small church is located at the eastern edge of the palace within Ani's citadel. Only its north wall is intact. The remains of the south wall still lie in large fragments where they fell, probably during the 1966 earthquake.
By the end of the 19th century most of the eastern end of the church had already collapsed. Much of the west fašade was also missing and the remainder was at risk of collapsing completely. In 1912 Nikolai Marr organised repairs to consolidate the structure of the church and he replaced the missing masonry on the west fašade. That same year, survey drawings of the church were produced, including measured drawings in colour of its interior north wall.
The date of the construction of this church has been the subject of debate. Marr recognised it as being the oldest surviving church at Ani, and placed it from the period when the Kamsarakan princes ruled Ani. However, he believed it to have been subjected to considerable repairs and renovations during later ages.
There was a damaged inscription carved on the south facade. It has been translated as "I, Absalon, vardabet, built this church, the year of the Ar[menians] ...". Unfortunately, the part of the inscription bearing the date was missing. However, this inscription has been the subject of contradictory translations and in another interpretation it does contain a date. In the inscription, the word "Hayots" ("Armenians") is incomplete: only the letters "h" and "a" survive. It has been proposed that those letters were actually being used as digits, and that they represented the number 71: the year 71 of the Armenian calendar which is the year 622 AD. Though the design of the church does suggest a 6th or 7th century date, the inscription is probably not from that period. In 1914, after excavating debris to the west of the church, fragments of a similar inscription were found which Marr concluded were from a later age.
Some of the early investigators of Ani, such as Brosset ¹, identified the church as "a hall in the citadel". Lynch countered this by pointing out that "it is oriented east; it obviously had an apse; above the apse you see the form of a cross sculptured on the face of the arch which still remains" ². The drawing below, showing the interior of the palace church, is from Brosset.
The Exterior of the Church
With the exception of several unusual features, the exterior of the church was plain. At the eastern end of the south fašade there was a semicircular niche with a semi-dome ceiling. Around the base of the semi-dome was a cornice with a frieze of acanthus leaves that was terminated on the left side with a capital bearing a relief (see photograph 8) depicting the Sacrifice of Isaac (Genesis 22. 9-13). In this relief, Isaac was depicted tied to a tree, on his left was Abraham, on his right was an angel communicating to Abraham the will of God, and in the background a ram with twisted horns was suspended from a tree. Marr dated this relief to the 9th century; he saw it as a later addition, but the style of the acanthus leaf frieze is actually similar to those found on 5th and 6th century structures like the Tekor and Ereyuk basilicas.
On the north fašade of the church there was also a niche. It was rectangular and had an arched ceiling. The decoration on the surviving vertical edge of this niche is similar to decoration that was on the south niche and on some of the pilasters inside the church, suggesting that they are all from the same date.
Numerous holes for beams are cut into the exterior walls of the church, revealing that there were once structures built against its south and west facades. The roof of the church was clad with large stone slabs. These would have been added at a later period - the original roof covering would probably have been clay tiles.
The church had three entrances. The main entrance was through the west fašade. There was a second doorway in the south fašade, and a third in the north fašade. The last led into a small chapel that was built during the 13th century. This chapel was on two floors, with a single-nave on each floor, and had an internal design that was similar to that of the palace church. Only its foundations survive today.
Over one of the entrances to the church, probably the north entrance, there was a tympanum containing a bas-relief. This relief had vanished by the time of Marr's investigations - it had been roughly pulled off and removed from the site. Fortunately, in 1850 a free-hand drawing had been made of it ³.
The relief depicted two horsemen that were facing each other but were separated by a stylised tree (see photograph 9). The horseman on the right was killing a dragon with his spear, the horseman on the left was killing a creature of undetermined form. The horsemen are probably warrior saints - they have been interpreted as being either Saint George (killing the dragon) and Saint Demetrios (killing Lyaeus the giant), or Saint Sergius (Sargis) and Saint Theodore (T'oros).
A small fragment of the left end of the missing relief still remained in-situ at the time of Marr's investigations (but it is no longer there). He observed that the carving on it differed from that depicted in the drawing - for example, the spear had a cross at its end, and the foliated ornament was different - suggesting that the 1850 drawing was not accurate in its details. The bas-relief panel was not an original part of the church's design: it had come from another structure, had been cut down in size a little, and had been placed above the doorway as a result of a repair or alteration.
The relief - if any - that had adorned the south entrance is not recorded: the tympanum had been removed by the 1850s. In the village of Taylar, located to the Northeast of Ani, Marr discovered a slab that may have been taken from the south entrance of the palace church. It bore a relief depicting a prince on horseback, preceded by his herald and followed by his retainers (see photograph 10). Marr dated it to a period not later than the 7th century.
The Interior of the Church
Internally, the church had a single nave and a single apse, with a barrel vaulted ceiling reinforced by two rib-vaults. These ribs were supported on four pilasters that formed an arcade of three arches along each side of the church's interior.
The top of these pilasters had sculptural decoration. On one of the southern pilasters a pair of eagles grasped their prey in their talons. On a northern pilaster were medallions with six-pointed stars: this one still survives (see photograph 17). A pilaster fragment bearing a carving of a lion was found during Marr's excavation. Marr interpreted some of these carvings as perhaps representing the symbols of the Four Evangelists: the eagle (John), ox (Luke), lion (Mark), and man (Mathew); others he interpreted as having had heraldic symbolism.
Marr dated the upper part of the church's interior, above the pilaster capitals, to be from the 9th century, and he thought that the pilasters with carvings might date from the Kamsarakan period. At some period the interior had been plastered, but there are no trace of frescoes.
Each side of the apse was framed by slender colonnettes decorated with a zigzag pattern (see photograph 14).
The 1915 Portfolio of Drawings
In 1915 a set of architectural drawings depicting the citadel church was published by the Museum of the Antiquities of Ani. It was printed at the expense of the Armenian Churches of St. Petersburg (who had also sponsored some of Marr's archaeological work at Ani). The drawings were the result of several years work. In 1912 P. Kniagnitzki, and in 1913 O. Kiandarianzes, pupils of the Imperial Academy of Fine arts, measured the citadel church and produced some architectural drawings. In 1914 the task was completed by the architect N. Bouniatov, who put together the portfolio with the help of B. Dantchitch.
Below are some of the drawings from the portfolio. They depict, from top to bottom: the south elevation; a section along the length of the apse; the west elevation; a cross-section across the width of the apse; a front and side view of the semicircular niche in the south facade; a pilaster on the south interior wall; two drawings of the mouldings that flanked the apse.