Echmiadzin is to the Armenian Apostolic Church what The Vatican is to the Catholic Church. It is believed that St. Gregory the illuminator first envisioned and built Mayr Tachar (Mother Church of Armenia) there in the 3rd-4th century. The monastery remains active with somber looking men in black robes gliding around its grounds.
Although the church's interior has its share of colorful paintings, the church's real gems are tucked in the Treasury behind a gate in the rear. We were shown the supposed remains of several apostles, the weapon used to pierce the side of Christ, and remnants of Noah's Ark. We seriously doubt that carbon dating of any of these relics would ever be allowed.
Most interesting perhaps is Echmiadzin's giant vessel of holy oil (myrrh). Legend states that the Apostle Thaddeus brought some oil consecrated by Christ to Armenia in the first century and hid it in a monastery while three centuries later, St. Gregory the Illuminator found it. Since that time, holy myrrh has been kept, remixed and consecrated at Echmiadzin and distributed to Armenian churches all over the world. An Armenian-American seminary student at Echmiadzin explained to us that all members of the Armenian Church share a bond because they are baptized with oil derived in part from Echmiadzin's original myrrh.
How to get to Echmiadzin:
Catch a marshrutka (minibus) from the corner of Mashtots and Saryan Streets in Yerevan. It takes about 20 minutes and costs around $1.