033-DSC_0009.jpg (23258 bytes) New York Architecture Images-Gramercy Park

St. Vartan Cathedral (Armenian Orthodox)




620 Second Ave.






sheathed in limestone with one story granite base and exterior staircase.








The first cathedral of the Armenian Orthodox Church to be built in North America, it was consecrated in 1959 and designed to resemble the 4th Century Cathedral of Holy Etchmiadzin in Armenia. The Gullabi Gulbenkian Cultural Center was added in 1967.

Vartan was a general who fought against Persia's effort to forcibly convert the Armenians to Zorastrianism.

The statue on the corner is Descent From the Cross by Reuben Nakian.

Saint Vartan
Armenian Cathedral
2nd Avenue @ E. 34th Street


Celeste Fay

An Armenian Cathedral in New York

St. Vartan Cathedral is the first cathedral of the Armenian Apostolic Church to be constructed in North America. It is located in New York City on the corner of Second Avenue and Thirty-forth street. It was built to resemble The Cathedral of Holy Etchmiadzin [or here for image], the world's first cruciform church, built in the fourth century and still standing in Armenia.

St. Vartan's was consecrated on April 28, 1968 by His Holiness Vasken I, Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of all Americans.

The Architecture


The cathedral has an L-shaped composition framing an entrance court of 114 feet long by 72 feet wide. It is elevated five feet above street level. It is sheathed in limestone with one story granite base and exterior staircase.

The main entrance faces a spacious plaza.

The Design above the door to main entrance depicts images of Saint Vartan, the Brave. It is patterned after similar designs found on the exterior of the ancient Armenian Church on the island of Aghtamar in Lake Van. The image on the right depicts St. Vartan, receiving the blessing of His Holiness Catholicos Hovsep. The image on the left depicts his military and peaceful natures. The helmet at the left foot shows the military nature, and the animal on his right represents his peaceful nature.


The interior of St. Vartan Cathedral is a simple, yet traditional, structure.

It has two distinct features that are found in many ancient Armenian Churches -- the double intersecting arches; and the dome. But many of the other features represent an effort to recall Armenian tradition.

The Arches span the edifice from end to end creating a centralized space that eliminates the need for columns that would otherwise obstruct the view of the altar. The spaciousness and centralized interior is representative to the immediate participation in the worship.

The Dome - The dome in the center of the cathedral is twenty-seven feet high and forty-five feet in diameter and is supported by the crowns of the four arches. Directly in the center of the dome is painted the Armenian letter I which translates "He is" in English. The circles surrounding the dome depict images of Christ, God, and the Holy Spirit. And the eight stained glass windows around the dome depict the events in the story of creation.

The Chandeliers: The chandeliers even though, they appear to be modern are actually reconstructed modes of the seventh century fixtures found in Armenia.

The Altar: The altar faces East, the traditional position for Christian churches. Crosses are hung without the body of Christ on them because Armenians like to emphasize the resurrection and glorified Lord, not suffering and dying.

The Side Altar to the left is dedicated to Saint Gregory the Enlightened and the altar to the right is dedicated to Saint Neresess Shnorhali. The Divine Liturgy (mass) is celebrated on the main altar.

Stained Glass Windows- There are six traditional Armenian Church windows that are high and narrow from the floor to the ceiling crowned with a rounded arch. The windows represent biblical events and memorial events in the history of the Armenian Church.

Stone Crosses - The stone crosses in this cathedral date back to the fifteenth century that were discovered in the ruins of a church in Armenia. Sixteen stones represent the twelve apostles and two evangelists St. Paul and St. Gregory the Illuminator.

The Circle Seal: In Center of the Nave is a marble insert under the dome that is dedicated to God and the people who enter. The inserts states "Ye are the salt of the earth, but if the salt hath lost His savor, wherewith shall it be salted." (Matthew 5:13) The two dates on the seal represent the date which Christianity was accepted as the state religion in Armenia (301) and the year St. Vartan's was consecrated (1968.)



Armenia is located in the Caucus region lying to the east of the Anatolia proper. In the eleventh century a "Lesser Armenia" developed in Cilicia, near the Mediterranan coast.

In the year 301 Christianity was made the state's official religion.

The architecture erected during the height of the Middle Ages in Armenia was influenced by Byzantine architecture but manifested its own development. The Cathedral of St. Vartan in New York City is a reconstruction of Churches in Armenia that were built during the Middle Ages.


The Walls of Kars

DETAILS of the Cathedral

St. Vartan Cathedral
630 Second Avenue
New York, NY 10016

(212) 686 0710

Visiting Hours: Weekdays 10-6pm
The Divine Liturgy: Sundays 10:30am


The Artistry of St. Vartan Cathedral

Its Architectural Heritage

The Cathedral's architectural plan is patterned after the 4th century church of St. Hripsime in Armenia, and includes two distinctive features of Armenian Church architecture. 

The first is the use of the double-intersecting arches to span the interior space, eliminated the need for the supporting columns familiar in other types of churches.  In early Armenian churches, these arches were stone; for St. Vartan Cathedral, the architects substituted steel, which eliminated the need for massive supporting walls.

The second feature is the pyramidal dome, which soars 120 feet above the street level.  The dome is supported by a drum, 27 feet high and 45 feet in diameter, which is supported in turn by the intersecting arches. 

Around the dome are various Christian symbols: the Armenian equivalent of "I am"; the eye, set within a triangle, representing  the omniscience of the Triune God; the figure of Jesus Christ; the Holy Spirit represented by a dove; a ship for the Church; the Greek letters alpha and omega superimposed on the scriptures, symbolizing God as the beginning and end of all things; wheat and grapes representing the Eucharist; a heart, an anchor, and a cross symbolizing love, hope, and faith; the Phoenix, the legendary bird of reincarnation, symbolizing resurrection. 

The New York architectural firm Steinman, Cain & White, with Edward Utudjian of Paris as a consultant designed the Cathedral.

The Art that Fills the Cathedral

The artist Bogdan Grom depicted scenes of the story of the creation in the eight pierced windows of the drum; for the skylight windows, he chose to represent symbolically the four evangelists Matthew (the Angel-man), Mark (the Lion), Luke (the Ox), and John (the Eagle).  The same symbols appear on the door handles of the Cathedral.

Below the dome, a series of high, narrow, stained-glass windows, each crowned with a rounded arch, are set into the main walls of the cathedral.  Two of the windows depict scenes in the life of Christ -- the Annunciation, the Nativity, the Baptism, the Passion, the Crucifixion, and the Resurrection. 

Another set of windows depicts scenes form the book of Genesis and the early history of Christianity in Armenia, including the settling of Noah's Ark on Mt. Ararat and portraits of the Apostles Thaddeus and Bartholomew as well as Santookht, the first woman martyr in Armenian history.  The profit Ezekiel is shown with an angel reaching out toward the skeletons below, commemorating the 2 million Armenians massacred by the Turks in 1915.  The patron saint of the cathedral, St. Vartan, is depicted fighting the Persians who threatened the Armenian Church during the fifth century.  The invention of the Armenian alphabet is remembered in portraits of St. Sahag and St. Mesrob.  The ecumenical Council of Nicaea (325 A.D.), which produced the Nicene Creed, is illustrated in three scenes form the Council.  Finally, the spirit of ecumenicism is symbolized in the portrait of St. Nersess and the crosses of Christendom.

Armenian Orthodox Mark Church's 1,700th Anniversary 
Armenia, the world's first Christian nation, is celebrating the event with a bit of St. Gregory's fire. 

By G. Jeffrey MacDonald 

Jan. 17 (RNS) -- When new candles started glowing this week in Armenian Orthodox churches around the world, everyone inside knew where the flame originated. 

It came, literally, from the pit where St. Gregory served a 15-year prison term for his Christian faith in the third century. The light of his faith, it is believed, never dimmed and is said to have caught fire in King Tiridat, who made Armenia the world's first Christian nation 1,700 years ago in 301. 
His Holiness Karekin II, today's Armenian pontiff, retrieved the flame at midnight on New Year's Eve from that same pit, which sits below the monastery of Khor Virab in Armenia. He passed the torch to dioceses around the world. 

A week later at St. Vartan Cathedral in New York, pilgrims from the region's 55 local congregations came forward to bring a piece of the fire back to their communities. 

"This was really special and beautiful," one worshipper at St. Vartan's said. "Having the young people participate, seeing everyone with their candles, knowing where the flame originated -- it really left a lump in your throat." 

Scores of local congregations received the flame in festive ceremonies Jan. 14. For many, it marked not only the endurance of Christianity, but also the perseverance of the Armenian people. 

The early Armenian Christians "had the courage to accept something that wasn't fashionable," said the Rev. Mardiros Chevian, dean of St. Vartan's Cathedral. "We're now acclimating ourselves to that spirit of determination." 

The Armenian Orthodox church claims about 7.5 million members worldwide, including 1.2 million in North America. 


The Context for the Battle

The Vartanantz' crisis occurred during the reign of King Yazdagird II of Persia, who ruled from A.D. 439 to 456.  At the beginning of his reign, King Yazdagird II declared war on the Greeks, who, however being incapable of opposing him signed a peace treaty in 444, paying an annual tribute, and relinquishing to the tender mercy of the pagan Persians all of the former Christian subjects who had sought refuge with them [the Greeks].  The Armenians could not expect anything from Constantinople where an incompetent prince named Theodosius II bore the imperial crown, but the real power rested in the hands of a woman, Pulcheria (408-457), at a time when Attila's Huns were creating havoc in Europe and posing a threat to Constantinople.

The Sasanian Shahs occasionally took a lenient attitude toward Christianity and Judaism, but more frequently they maltreated and persecuted them in matters of religion and state.  Christianity, especially the kind that was in communion with the Universal Church, was detestable to the Persians, since it constituted a bond between their Western subjects and the Greeks, and an obstacle to the integration of various elements in the state.

The two striking accomplishments during the reign of Yazdagird II were, first, the persecutions against the Christians and Jews, and second, the endless wars against the White Huns and Hephthalites who lived on the eastern borders of Persia. Yazdagird's efforts failed in both ventures, and we can perhaps state that at least on this occasion the barbaric Turks unintentionally assisted the Christians in making the implementation of Yazdagird's disastrous plan come to naught.

In order to understand the real meaning of the passionate, tearful and bloody disturbances during the Vartanantz war and its sequel in Armenia, it is necessary to keep in mind the well-known religio-political aims of the Sasanian government.  The Magi exercised a domineering influence on the Sasanian court, which on many occasions expressed its authority to its subjects of other religious persuasions with fire and the sword.

This stubborn and opportunistic policy of propaganda forged in Ctesiphon (the capital of the Sasanian empire) represented a real trial for Vartan's and Vassak's character and course.

-- Vartanantz Baderazme (New York, 1918)