The Mother See of Holy Echmiadzin (Etchmiadzin) is the pre-eminent center of authority in the world wide Armenian Apostolic Church. Located near the Capital of Yerevan in the Republic of Armenia, it is composed of:
- the Mother Cathedral of the entire Armenian Church;
- a monastery and monastic brotherhood;
- the residence of the Catholicos of All Armenians;
- various religious and cultural institutions, such as the Kevorkian Theological seminary and a museum.
The Cathedral dates back to the 4th century, and is reckoned the oldest Christian Cathedral in the world. Although the current sanctuary was erected in the 1600’s, remnants of the 4th century altar have been unearthed beneath the present structure.
The Holy See of Echmiadzin is where the Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of all Armenians reside. The Cathedral of Echmiadzin is one of the four principal churches of Vagharshapat. The city of Vagharshapat won fame in the Christian era by virtue of the fact that the Monastery of Echmiadzin, founded by St. Gregory the Illuminator, was located in this city.
The Monastery flourished in the days of St. Sahak and St. Mesrop, the inventors of the Armenian alphabet, and has been the seat of the Armenian Catholicosate to this day. At first the Cathedral of Echmiadzin was called Shoghagat, having been built at the site designated by the vision of St. Gregory the Illuminator, it later was called the Cathedral of Echmiadzin. Today it is simply called Echmiadzin.
Armenian chroniclers have attached to this name the title of Mayr Yegeghetziatz (Mother of Churches).
The first Catholicos of Echmiazdin was St. Gregory the Illuminator, founder of the Armenian Church who was elected in 302. Down to 453 A.D., 18 Catholicoi have sat on the throne of Echmiadzin after which it was vacant until the 15th century as a result of political upheavals. With the election of Vasken I in 1956, altogether 162 Catholicoi have sat on the patriarchal throne of Echmiadzin.