Bridging the Old and the New The Paree Degak St. Stephens’ Armenian Apostolic Church is located on 38 Elton Ave. in Watertown, MA. In 1952-1953, there was a group of St. James’ Armenian Apostolic Church members that felt like they were being left out or isolated by the church. They decided to initiate the creation of their own Armenian Church nearby. In 1956 there was a committee to determine how to achieve the funding necessary to build another church as well as to pick the location and structure of the house of worship. Church groundbreaking occurred right after the termination of the committee, in 1956. There is a plaque in the vestibule of the church that cites Dr. Levon Daghlian as the Leading Founder of the St. Stevens’ Armenian Apostolic Church. The plaque was dated October 17, 1982. While the date of the plaque and the groundbreaking of the church do not coincide, it is possible that either this was the leading founder and the plaque commemorated him in 1982 or there was a second group of beneficiaries in 1982 that help renovate the church. HIS EMINENCE ARCHBISHOP OSHAGAN CHOLOYAN is currently the Church Prelate, REV. ARCHPRIEST ANTRANIG BALJIAN is currently the Church Pastor, and REV. ARCHPRIEST TORKOM HAGOPIAN is currently the Pastor Emeritus. Watertown, the environment in which the church was built, is one of the most densely populated Armenian settlements, so there were many Armenian shops and restaurants in the nearby surroundings. The outside of the church is a magnificent sight to behold. The church takes the form of a cruciform basilican church with a rectangular base, which is an observation supported by the findings inside the church. The first observation made was of a small steele-type stone on the left front of the church called a
Valentine 2 khatchkar. The stone pillar has angels smiling on either side with crosses covering the majority of it. A characteristic of many of the Armenian sculptures is the animation and pure expression shown by the characters depicted by ancient engravers. They are in concordance with the ancient churches in that they have an emphasis on salvation and heaven. This stone was a remembrance stone put on the outside of the church in memorial of an individual. Also, from a frontal view, the church has a base in the middle that extends much higher than the rest of the church, with the drum and tower rising form the middle of the base. The approximate measurements of the church taken by my paces were 70 feet long and 80 feet wide. On either side on a sloping slant there are the ends of the church to create extra space for the cruciform church to be formed. The roofs extend further than the building reaches, which is common in many basilican churches. There are gables, a triangular section of wall at the end of a pitched roof, occupying the space between the two slopes of the roof. The roofs are made up of a mixture of wood in areas and plaster. The church was constructed with a yellowish stone that encircles the building. The drum on the base of the church is circular with jagged edges on the absolute top of the structure that contains twelve stained glass windows. The portal of the church is very detailed, with two wooden doors to greet the guest. After walking up the eleven stairs to get to the entranceway, there are five arches occurring on the west, east, and southern parts of the front entrance, which I believe to be supported with corbels. The door is made up of a heavy wood with a sunflower and cross carved into both doors, and smaller sunflowers in a border. There was no distinct trumeau that I could see, except for a small division between the two doors. Also, I didn’t see any dentils from the sidewalls on any part of the building. On the lintels there
Valentine 3 were wooden carvings of two birds with their wings open to show their wingspan. On the tympanum, the half-moon above the lintel, there are engravings carved in marble with the lettering “St. Stevens’ Armenian Apostolic Church” in English and Armenian with a cross in the center. I found the cross to be very unique with its ends jutting out and curling like the petals of a flower. The archivolt was very uniform without any distinct markings or symbols. Charles Najarian and Son carved both doors. The atrium is covered with stonewalls. The ceiling of this vestibule is domed with tiles on the ceilings. There is a raised box with sand in it, which I assume to be present to hold lighted candles people thrust into the sand as a prayer for someone. There are three candle boxes in the entire church, one in the atrium and two on the extreme aisles of the church with one in the narthex on the right side of the church. The first thing I noticed when entering the nave are the chandeliers coming down from the ceiling of the church. There are four chandeliers near the four corners of the church and the most majestic coming down from middle of the dome in the drum of the church. The nave consists of sixteen rows of pews. There are three aisles in total, with thirteen rows of pews on the extreme aisles to either side. There is a beautiful red carpet streaming down each aisle, making its way up to the front of the church. On either side of the church there are plaques with the names of the past and present donors to the church. Standing facing the altar, there are five stained glass windows on the west and east side of the church. In the middle of the church there is a dome in which the drum extends upwards from to create a wonderful structure that seemingly stretches upwards to heaven. The theme of the artwork in the dome creates a celestial feeling, with clouds in the drum of
Valentine 4 the tower. The ribbing on the dome implies squinch but the more dominant type of support and transition into the dome is a pendentive style beginning near the ground and heading upwards. There does not appear to be any supports in the form of stylobates or piers. The dome is supported by the walls of the building, made up of plaster as well as implementations of wood throughout. The altar is indeed the most detailed and complex segment of the church. The saying on the top of the altar and over the apse is “I am the way, the truth, and the life”. The maxim is inscribed in English and Armenian in which looks to be a triumphal arch. There are two chambers on either side of the altar that are in concordance with many Armenian churches like Mastara, Ani, and Gndevank. The chamber on the left contains the baptismal font, and the chamber on the right is used as storage for many of the ceremony’s elements. There are three paintings on the altar. The painting on the left appears to be of the founder of the Armenian Alphabet St. Mesrop. With the help of his students and other Catholicos, St. Mesrop translated the bible from Greek and Syrian to fit the new Armenian Alphabet. He knew the translation had to be perfect, considering that the bible was the word of the Lord and the future widespread use of the work. October, the date of my visit to St. Stevens’, is known as “The Feast of The Translation”. The painting in the middle of the altar is of Mary holding baby Jesus. The painting on the right is of Gregory the Catholicost. There is a step to get on the bema, the platform of the altar. The altar’s woodwork was carved by hand. Also contained in the altar is the patin, a plate usually of gold or silver that is used to hold the host during the celebration of the Eucharist. The chalice and communion are held at a left niche on the altar. On the right niche are prayers and supplies for the service.
Valentine 5 The apse of the church is very distinct, and I cannot tell by the look of the outside whether or not the apse is paligama. The apse houses the ornate wooden carving that contains the chalice and the host, as well as the bible. The altar has many adornments that make it characteristic of the Armenian Church, butt here are also other elements that the Armenians took from their ancestry. There are three pagonistic staffs on the altar. The prelate of the pastor may take ahold of these staffs at any time during the ceremony and shake them. It is said that this motion scares all the devils away from the church while the congregation is in prayer. The altar boys also shake the staffs at different points throughout mass. The staffs are called Tsenghas. On the left side of the bema there are different chairs that have different significances. The archbishop sits in the chair to the side under a carved wooden awning. Only a celibate priest may sit under the awning. There are steps on either side of the bema to get onto the altar. An observation I’d like to make is that there are many carvings of grapes around the church, which symbolize wine, which is the symbol of the blood of Christ. The housing of the altar is hand-carved with a picture of The Last Supper. The drum and tower of the church are transcribed on the top of the altar carving, which looks like it’s extending upwards into the apse. Right before turning away and leaving this majestic church, I looked up right near the bema, and I saw a bird showing its full wingspan surrounded by many lines, which I assume to be flashes of light. That element of the church is probably the most memorable, considering the symbol of the bird means unity, freedom, and community. I feel a small connection now with the feelings of the founders of St. James’ Church. They built their place of worship on the foundation that everyone will be welcomed into their
Valentine 6 community, free from judgement, all united in the beliefs of the Armenian Church. I left St. Stephens’ Armenian Church with a warm feeling in my heart. It is evident that this church was constructed with the past in mind. Although they didn’t use building materials such a tufa, they managed to keep the ancient Armenian feeling to the entire structure. The yellow stone closely conformed to the color and style of many Armenian churches. Like Mastara, the outside of the church is not very ornate, very plain with windows and doors being the only breaks in the stone. The cross-shaped structure and basilican rectangular frame are very similar to The Church of St. Hovannes in Mastara and S. Teodoros in Bagaran. The fact that it had two chambers at the far end of the church was a signal that this church was following many ancient architectural designs. Like Mastara, the church is supported by masonry, is without columns, and is supported by the endpoints. Many of the inscriptions and the paintings have very firm roots in the history of The Armenian Church. I noticed that there might have been areas of renovation in the past that do not seem to blend in perfectly with the connecting parts of the church. The differences between the “new” church and the seventh century church in Mastara was that the “new” church is slightly bigger, with the dome encompassing less than the church at Mastara. The stained glass windows are closer together in the “new” church, as it appears that the windows in the drum of Mastara are very spread out. Mastara is cruciform inside and outside, with the sides of the cross making half-rounded apses. St. Stephens’ Church has apses on the north and south ends, but does not show distinct apses on the east and west sides of the church.
Valentine 7 The Temple in Mastara is evidence that the ancient builders in Armenia perpetually looked for better versions or central-domed cruciform churches. Thanks to the brilliant quality of Mastara, it has a place in the history of Armenian architecture as one of its best works. St. Stephens’ in Watertown, although working with many different and modern materials, manages to repeat past designs so it can keep history alive and give the feeling of living in the past when the church is entered. When I stepped into St. Stephens’ Armenian Church I felt like I was stepping into the 7th century stemming from the pictures and slides I have seen in class. The ability to be able to study a new church has provided me with a solid view of the continuity of the Armenian Church as a whole.