The Continuity of Caucasus"Mithra" architecture’s signs and remnants in the churches of Armenia and Georgia

Document Type : Research Article



Armenia was under the influence of Iran during the reign of Median Empire. Regarding the religious point of view, this influence continued until "Gregory, the Illuminator" turned it a Christian country in the middle of third century. Armenians and Persians were of the Aryan race. Furthermore and due to geographical proximity, they had a variety of common points in terms of religious beliefs and creeds. Accordingly, they had left impact on each other. Ancient Iranians were always accustomed to worship God on the high places. As such, they were known for their traditional worship, prayer and hymnody before Ahura Mazda and other deities (Mithra and Anahita). At the time of the Achaemenid Empire, the triple deities were worshiped thereof…. At the time of the Parthian, these deities had also been regarded within the framework of general as well as the official religion. Although we do not have any valid and reliable text on this in Iran, some written texts in Armenia confirm this issue. Mithra had been one of the most popular and respected deities in Armenia. Similarly, there are many temples and remnants of post-Christianity Mithraism in the eastern parts of Armenia that indicate the importance and presence of Mithra in these areas. Mithra was considered as a goddess during the Sassanian and Zoroastrianism. As can be seen in Mihr Yasht ("hymn to Mithra"), while there is no sign of Achaemenid and Parthian great Mithras, She has a beautiful appearance with a thousand eyes and a thousand ears.  The land of the Caucasus, especially Armenia, had been considered among the most important places in which Mithra was worshipped before Christianity. According to renowned researchers, Armenia had been the first place in which Christianity became an official religion. Actually, the oldest state church in the world (St. Etchmiadzin, third and fourth centuries AD) is placed in Armenia. The old monasteries built in the mountains and on the heights are signs of the ancient temples. They have great works of Mithra temples architecture that have converted into churches. However, they can be considered as some authentic and original examples of the evolution of Mithraism to Christianity. Regarding the current religious monuments in the Caucasus as well as field studies conducted on this issue,  there are some ancient works of basilica (early churches) and cave temples. Geghard cavern-like Mithraeum near Yerevan, the capital of Armenia, are important signs pointing to the strong presence of this religion in the form of early pure and primary temples and forming the churches thereof. The cavern-like space of Geghard Church within the massive rocks forms one of the most ancient examples of churches that have been placed in the vicinity of the temples. The church has important signs of a fountain in the cavern-like yard, a window facing East, altar and sanctuary. The ruins of Uplistsikhe ancient temple in Georgia and Mithraem of the Church of the fourth century located on a hill at the same place can be considered as two other examples of the primary presence of Mithraism as well as its continuance and conversion into Christianity. This article has been based on library studies and conclusions drawn from field studies through a scientific-research expedition to the Caucasus as well as a set of analyses conducted via an exploratory research methodology.