Following the conversion of Armenia to Christianity, the wooden cross, symbol of the new faith, was erected in the various shrines of Armenia. The earliest attempts to replace the wooden cross with a stone cross date back to the period between the 4th and 7th centuries. These stone crosses are represented by the “winged crosses” found during the excavation of Dvin.
They served as basis for a unique Armenian art form
Beginning in the 9th century, cities in Armenia such as Ani, Lori, Kars, Van, experienced a dynamic growth. New monasteries and convents were founded as well. It was during this period that the stone crosses appeared. The oldest stone crosses known to us are from the 9th to 10th centuries. The khachkars (khatchkars) were used for a variety of meanings and purpose. Carved khachkars or memorial stones are found in graveyards and in monasteries and cathedrals. These slabs are rectangular in shape, the cross motif being carved in relief in the central panel. Often the cross is shown entwined with elaborate interlace carvings, suggesting the Tree of Life with its sinuous strands, accompanied by flowers and leaves. Customary types of stone crosses include scenes of Christ, the Virgin and Child, Angels and Saints; sometimes one sees such scenes as Daniel and the lion’s den, the sacrifice of Issac, and the Nativity and Baptism of Christ.
Khachkars were also erected on different occasions to mark a military victory, to commemorate an event of historical significance or to dedicate the conclusion of the construction of churches, fountains, bridges and other structures. Khachkars were also affixed to the walls of numerous churches. Khachkars are valuable for their inscriptions that often contain important historical information associated with the history of the Armenian people.
The most famous master in making khachkars was Mkhitar during the 12th century, who with his apprentice Avetis, carved the stone of “Dudevordi.” Other masters included Momik who carved Khachkars at Noravank, in Vayots Dzor, and Poghos who carved cross stones in Goshavank in 1291. We should also mention the master stoneworker Vahram, creator of the cross stone in Haghbat and the Amenaprkich of Dsegh, who gave new form and content to the decoration of Khachkars.