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The Church of the Holy Cross (Armenian: Surb Khach) on Akdamar Island, Turkey, was a cathedral of the Armenian Apostolic Church, built as a palace church for the kings of Vaspurakan and later serving as the seat of the Armenian Catholicosate of Aght'amar.
During his reign, King Gagik I Artsruni (r. 908-944) of the Armenian kingdom of Vaspurakan chose the island of Aght'amar as one of his residences founding a settlement there. The only structure standing from that period is the Cathedral. It was built of pink volcanic tufa by the architect-monk Manuel during the years 915-921, with an interior measuring 14.80m by 11.5m and the dome reaching 20.40m above ground. In later centuries, and until 1915, it formed part of a monastic complex, the ruins of which can still be seen to the south of the church.
Between 1116 and 1895 Aght'amar Island was the location of the Armenian Catholicosate of Aght'amar. Khachatur III, who died in 1895, was the last Catholicos of Aght'amar. In 1915, during the Armenian Genocide, the monks of Aght'amar were massacred, the church looted, and the monastic buildings destroyed.
The church remained disused through the decades after 1915. When the writer and journalist Yaşar Kemal visited the island of Akhtamar in 1951, he discovered that it was about to be demolished. Using his contacts he helped stop the planned destruction. The church became a noted tourist attraction in the coming decades. In 2005 the structure was closed to visitors as it underwent a heavy restoration, being opened as a museum by the Turkish government a year later.
The architecture of the church is based on a form that had been developed in Armenia several centuries earlier; the best-known example being that of the seventh century St. Hripsime church in Echmiadzin.
The unique importance of the Cathedral Church of the Holy Cross comes from the extensive array of bas-relief carving of mostly biblical scenes that adorn its external walls. The meanings of these reliefs have been the subject of much and varied interpretation. Some of this is speculation - for example, a few sources interpret Islamic and Turkic influences behind the artistic rendering of the reliefs, syncretised with Armenian influences. Some scholars assert that the friezes parallel contemporary motifs found in Umayyad art - such as a turbaned prince, Arab styles of dress, wine imagery; allusions to royal Sassanian imagery are also present (Griffins, for example).
Vandalism and de
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