Structure: Marr-Orbeli site 8.
Other designations: Hovui Ekeghetsi; Nakhrdji; Çoban Kilisesi.


This unique building was located outside Ani's city walls, several hundred metres to the north-west and on the route to Horomos monastery. Already badly ruined by the start of the 20th century, it was almost entirely destroyed by an earthquake in 1966. Some remains survive of it - they are visible from the road approaching Ani but are within an inaccessible military zone.

The church bore no inscriptions, and nothing is known about its history. Its name, the "Church of the Shepherd", came from a traditional story that a shepherd had it built after his wife had complained that all the churches within Ani were too noisy and crowded for quiet prayer.

Design Analysis

Although it was only a small structure, its design was extremely complex. Externally the building was visually divided into three sections, internally it had two floors. It had a total height of around 11 metres and a diameter of 7 metres at its base.

The ground floor had a particularly complex structure. Externally it was a 12-pointed star. The interior had six niches. The vertical surface between each niche was composed of a cluster of engaged columns and from the top of each cluster rose a semicircular arch. These six arches converged at the centre of the ceiling. The exact nature of this convergence is uncertain since that part of the structure had collapsed: it may have had a hanging keystone (similar to that in the hall of the Church of the Apostles) or may have been supported by a central column. The hanging keystone was the solution adopted by Toros T'oromanian in his reconstruction of the church, the drawings of which are reproduced here.

The upper floor was circular inside, hexagonal outside, and roofed by a dome supported on a cylindrical drum. There was a door to the exterior, but it is not clear how this door was accessed from ground level: there was no trace of an exterior staircase.

Although the design of the church was an architectural tour-de-force, it was executed rather crudely, with only minimal and austere decoration. The date of construction is uncertain: it may be from the 10th or 11th century, or from the 12th or 13th century. Its design and small size suggests that it served as a mausoleum, with the lower level perhaps used as a sepulchre and the upper level as an oratory.

Is it a Church?

While writing this page, I looked at five different publications. Each of them had a plan of the church, and each had that plan oriented differently! For the plan reproduced on this page I have assumed that the east-facing apse is the windowless niche. However, only one of the publications oriented it in this way, and to find an east-facing apse without a window is very unusual.

This vagueness in the orientation of the plan is curious. The lower floors of Armenian mortuary chapels do not always have an apse, but they are always oriented east-west. Was this building oriented east-west? Until this question is answered it is not certain to me that this building was a church. Could it have actually been a Muslim turbe-type of tomb? Was the windowless "apse" actually a mihrab niche, oriented south towards Mecca? If it was Muslim in origin (but designed and constructed by Armenians) then it was probably from the Shaddadid period: the late 11th century or the 12th century.

1.   The "Church of the Shepherd"
- click for a larger photo

2.   Another view of the church

3.   Yet another view of the church
- click for a larger photo

4.   The interior of the church

5.   The church depicted in a pre-1920
painting by Arshak Fetvadjian

6.   The church depicted in a pre-1920
painting by Arshak Fetvadjian