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Tatev monastery, Armenia.

Silk Road of Armenia: A Night in Tatev

The inner yard of Tatev monastery looks abandoned when arrive here at the end of the sixth day of our hitchhiking journey along the Silk Road of Armenia. On our right is a water spring. We drink some fresh water, and leave our backpacks here to wander around. At the other end of the monastery we notice a dim yellow light in the fog. Hoping to find someone there, we cross the yard, and behind the window glass we see a silhouette of a woman. We knock the door. She is surprised to see visitors. “Please, come in, you must be cold. I just prepared some rose hip tea, it’ll warm you up,” she says and invites us in.

Tatev monastery, Armenia.

Herself from Yeghegnadzor, Ophelia comes to Tatev from time to time and prepares food for the monks. As we sit down by the table in the refectory, Ophelia checks the shelves for jams and other food for us, meanwhile I briefly introduce ourselves and tell her the story of our journey, asking in the end if we could camp somewhere around. Ophelia says that we need the abbot’s permission for staying in the monastery. “Father Mikael is on the way from Goris to Tatev now, he teaches at the schools in the villages around Goris during the day. His phone is out of coverage at the moment, so let’s wait,” says Ophelia.

Ophelia holding a plate with walnut preserve, Tatev monastery, Armenia.

A young parish clerk named Harutyun joins us soon, and we continue our conversation. While Emée and Ophelia, who speaks a little French, discuss the recipes of the dishes she cooks, me and Harutyun talk about the relations between the villagers of Tatev and the monastery. Suddenly, we hear someone knocking on the door. As Ophelia opens the door, we see three tourists from Germany, Italy and Brazil, who ask if this is a restaurant for tourists, because they saw the pots through the kitchen window. We say it’s not. Ophelia invites them in, and they join our conversation. “I’m not religious at all, but when I hear Armenian religious music, it makes me cry. The music reminds me of the days I used to go to church every Sunday,” shares his feelings the traveler from Italy. Since their taxi is waiting for them outside the monastery, they soon leave us and walk away into the night.

At the refectory of Tatev monastery, Armenia.

Meanwhile, Ophelia receives news from the abbot. Instead of camping outside in the rain, he suggests us to spend the night in a little stone building behind the monastery walls that used to be the oil press of the monastery back in the old days, and was now turned into a museum. Harutyun helps us to move our backpacks to the oil press, and also gets us camp-beds and extra sleeping bags and blankets. Father Mikael arrives not long after. He is tired and exhausted. He sits silently by the table, his eyes are closed, and he says nothing. When the food is served, he blesses the meal, and we then take our dinner: a delicious aveluk (wild sorrel) soup, a bulgur porridge with mushrooms, a beet and carrots salad, and potatoes. We enjoy our food in silence, and when the dinner is over, father Mikael and Harutyun leave us and begin the preparations for the evening service. We help Ophelia to wash the dishes, then drink tea.

The church of saints Paul and Peter, Tatev monastery, Armenia.

Upon hearing the bells ringing and calling everyone for the mass, we go to the Saints Paul and Peter Church. Built between 895 and 906 AD, it is the oldest remaining construction within the complex and the largest church of Tatev. Father Mikael and Harutyun, dressed in their black robes, begin the service. For the next 1,5 hours we stand on a carpet in front of the altar, following every movement of the abbot and the parish clerk. Father Mikael’s voice sounds tired, and his final “Amen” brings relief to all of us.

We wish them good night, and then slowly walk to the oil press. We lock the door, turn off the lights and go to our beds. It takes me some time before I fall asleep, thinking of father Aspet – the abbot of the Haghpat monastery, whom we met earlier on our journey and who perhaps had just finished the evening service, too, and is about to go to sleep. Did anyone attend his service in Haghpat, or was he all alone by himself?


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