The Geghard complex is an exceptionally complete and well-preserved example of a medieval Armenian monastic foundation. It is located in a remote area of great natural beauty at the head of the Azat valley, surrounded by towering cliffs. The complex contains a number of churches and tombs, most of them cut into the rock, which illustrate the very peak of Armenian medieval architecture and decorative art, with many innovatory features that had a profound influence on subsequent developments in the region. It was founded in the 4th century, by St. Gregory the Illuminator.
The most ancient part of the monastery complex of Haghpat is the small cave Chapel of St Gregory (7th. c.), lying to the east of the main group and outside the monastery walls. It is excavated directly into the rock of the mountainside and is uncompleted. The site is that of a spring arising in a cave which had been sacred in pre-Christian times, hence one of the names by which it was known, Ayvirank (the Monastery of the Cave). The principal structure, the church of the Virgin, is a cruciform building from the second quarter of the 13th century. It has a four-column gavit (1225) to the west of the church. Two cave-churches were constructed in 1263, along with the family sepulchre of the Proshian Princes.
The first monastery was destroyed by Arabs in the 9th century, but it was re-established and was flourishing again by the 13th century under the patronage of the Proshyan princes. Their coat of arms is carved in the rock: two chained lions and an eagle with half-spread wings, whose claws grasp a calf. The Proshyan princes provided the monastery with an irrigation system in 1200, as well as paying for the erection and reconstruction of most of the churches in the complex. At this time it was also known as the Monastery of the Seven Churches and the Monastery of the Forty Altars.
The monastery was more famous because of the relics that it housed. The most celebrated of these was the spear (geghard) which had wounded Christ on the Cross, allegedly brought there by the Apostle Thaddeus, from which comes its present name, Geghardavank (the Monastery of the Spear), first recorded in a document of 1250. This made it a popular place of pilgrimage for Armenian Christians over many centuries. Relics of the Apostles Andrew and John were donated in the 12th century, and pious visitors made numerous grants of land, money, manuscripts, etc over the succeeding centuries. No works of applied art have survived in Geghard, except for the legendary spear, which is now in the museum of Etchmiadzin Cathedral. Boasting intricate stone-carvings, a natural spring, and numerous khachkars (stone crosses), together with domes and columned belfries, the Geghard complex is deservedly one of the most popular destinations for the locals and tourists alike.