Armenian Cross

Khachkar or Siroun Cross

Chess, art and sport are compulsory school subjects in Armenia; not surprising for a republic where education of the country's cultural history is held in great esteem, reflected in the deep symbolism of the Armenian Cross.

Armenian Cross

also known as the Khachkar or Siroun Cross

Armenian Cross

In the early years of the 4th century, Armenia became the first country to accept Christianity, and the Armenian Cross mirrors some of the designs favoured in those days: vines and floral swirls.

The winged Armenian Cross has a busy design where the lower shaft is usually just slightly longer than the arms and top, and all four members have distinctive double tips.

An alternative name is the Siroun Cross. Siroun (pronounced "see-roon") is an Armenian girl's name that means 'lovely'.

© Crispin Semmens, 2011
Ancient and modern Khachkars in Gyumri, whose flag uses the same design
(Click image to enlarge)

On the original stone crosses we almost invariably see lovely intricate carving, like the interlacing pattern seen in Celtic knots. These stones are called "Khachkar", where "khach" = cross, and "kar" = stone. The guidebook of Holy Saviour's Church in Gyumri, Armenia's second largest city, says of the four "wings" that the upper wing symbolizes the Kingdom of Heaven, the lower symbolizes the demolition of Hell, on the right symbolizes grace and the left wing symbolizes the remission of sins.

The book continues with an alternative suggestion by an (un-named) ancient-Armenian historian, that the upper wing symbolizes love, the lower symbolizes modesty, the right symbolizes obedience and the left symbolizes patience; four virtues we should all strive for.

Just as a snowflake always has six rays, yet no two snowflakes are alike, Armenian Crosses are recognised by the distinctive 'wings', yet the rest of the design is often unique.

In fact this cross is sometimes confused with the Snowflake Cross, or other crosses such as the fishtail St. John's Cross.

There are a similar forked heraldic crosses, such as the Croix Fourche, or crescents, as in the Croix Croissant (known in Wicca as the Lunate Cross), which in turn are similar to the Teutonic Cross. But on the Armenian Cross we see no forks or crescents. In fact, rather than moons (which could be confused with the identity of neighbouring Muslim regions), we often see Suns.

The Armenian Cross is usually without a corpus, giving focus to the risen Christ more than the Passion. Rejecting the decisions of the Council of Chalcedon, there is greater emphasis on the divine nature of Christ.

At the end of each arm is usually a small disc (sometimes more than one, as seen in the example above) and each of these are suns, which represent the light of Christ. In the Armenian Church this symbol is emphasised during morning services.

The intersection of the bars signifies the four corners of the world meeting at life's centre. This is a concept that has been carried forward from earlier syncretistic pagan art forms.

Whether this cross style is used by the Armenian Apostolic Church, the Armenian Catholic Church or the Armenian Evangelical Church, the cross almost invariably features the double-tipped arms, making eight points. These eight points, as with the St. John's Cross, represent the eight beatitudes. 

Multiples of eight are significant in Armenian church architecture. The churches are built on sixteen pillars, consecrated to the twelve apostles and four evangelists, and the churches are often topped with an octagonal dome.

But all these interpretations of the cross design are relatively recent. The cross is truly ancient and was used by Armenian Pagans long before Christians adopted the cross in the 9th century.

Click for a more detailed view
Armenian horse blanket
Woven in the traditional symmetrical style of many Oriental rugs, showing animals, peacocks & other birds on Noah's Ark. (Click photo to enlarge)

Old Pagan fertility dragon stones (vishapakar) can be seen in Armenia near lakes, rivers and springs, where they represent the Tree of Life and the biblical Garden of Eden. These fish-shaped vishapakars were carved and erected thousands of years before the Christian khachkar stones.

Although the vishapakars evolved into khachkars, the fish tail was retained along with its Tree of Life and Wisdom interpretation. An addition was the equilateral geometry which symbolizes harmony. (See also Sacred Geometry.) Such geometry is typical of Caucasian art, as seen in the Kazak nomad's horse rug on the right.

Sadly, in the past few years, invaders have looted and vandalized many khachkars, destroying thousands of these stone treasures.

Many accounts say 301 or 302 A.D. was the year Armenia was declared a Christian country, after many years of evangelical activity in the 3rd century. The precise date is uncertain but there is consensus that Armenia was the first to accept the faith as a 'state religion'.

"Beatitude" is an honorific title used in the Armenian church for patriarchs, but here it refers to the beginning of Jesus' very first sermon – the Sermon on the Mount. These are listed in Matt. 5:3-11 and the Vulgate version shows each line starts with the Latin beati, which means "blessed".

Some discern that the eighth Beatitude in verses 10 and 11 of Matthew 5 should be separated, thereby creating nine. Verse 10 says:

10Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

which, using the third-person, is more general than the use of the second- and first-persons of verse 11:

11Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.

This personalisation has special significance to Armenian Christians. Whilst 'the age of martyrs' might be considered to have ended when Constantine took the reins in the 4th century, more recently so many Armenian Christians have been killed for their faith in Jesus Christ.


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