The temple is located in Armenia, about ten kilometers south of the city of Alaverdi near the town of Tumanyan in the Lori region. It is located above the Debed River gorge, on the slopes of the basalt Lori Mountains, which are completely bare in their upper part, but are covered with dense vegetation at the foot.
During the reign of George III Tamara in Georgia, the connection between Armenians and the Georgian state became even closer. The northern part of Armenia became part of the Georgian kingdom, where it enjoyed full internal self-government without paying taxes. The rise of the Armenian princes of the Zaharid family, who for several generations occupied the most important state posts, being one of the most significant and influential figures of the Georgian kingdom, belongs to this period. For their activities, the Zaharids inherited a number of Armenian lands from the Georgian kings, including the lands of the Tashir-Dzoraget kingdom taken from the Kurikians by, as the medieval Georgian chronicler writes about them «…Sorgis Zacharias Mkhargrdzeli, who sat in the place of the Armenian kings, the lord of Lori«.
History of the monastery
Kobayr Monastery was founded at the end of the XI century by princesses from the Armenian Kurikyan family, in whose hands it continued to remain throughout the XII century, probably at the beginning of the XIII. The monks of the monastery took an active part in the life of the Armenian church, so at the end of the XII century, there were disputes within the Armenian church about the legality of vestments and other church accessories. The monks of Kobayr also took part in the dispute, as Archbishop Nerses Lambronatsi of Tarsus Levon II of Cilicia, complaining that the monks of Ani, Akhtala and Kobayr criticized him.
By the mid-fifties of the XIII century, the male line of the Kurikyan family was interrupted, but, apparently, even before that, Kobayr became the family monastery of the senior branch of the Zaharids. According to the information that has come down to us, in 1261, the Mongols killed Zahariya, the eldest son of the Shahanshah, the latter, unable to bear the news of his son’s death, died. Shahanshah was buried in Kobayr. Given that Shahanshah was born in 1197, it is likely that the monastery passed to the Zaharids between 1220 and 1261. Due to the fact that Shahanshah, unlike his father, Amirspasalar Zahariya, did not belong to the Armenian religion, but to the Chalcedonian one, the monastery, having passed from the Kurikians to the Zaharids, is reorganized from Armenian to Armenian-Chalcedonian.
From 1276 to 1282, on the initiative of the local monk Gregory, extensions were built in the monastery, and the altar was decorated with frescoes. In 1279, by order of the Zaharids, a bell tower was built, which later became their ancestral tomb. After some time, having given the monastery oblivion, the Chalcedonian Armenians leave it. Kobayr, having remained deserted for several centuries, returned to the bosom of the Armenian Apostolic Church, reopened its doors in the XVII—XVIII centuries.
In 1971, Soviet scientists and restorers restored the monastery’s frescoes.
The main buildings of the Kobayr monastery complex date back to the XII—XIV centuries. They include a central cathedral in one passage, two chapels, a bell tower-tomb, a refectory and a cemetery. On the walls of the monastery there are inscriptions made in Armenian, which were made before it was turned into a Chalcedonian monastery. After Kobayr passed to the Chalcedonian Armenians, the inscriptions on the monastery are already made in Georgian.
The ruins of the monastery are best known for their unique wall paintings-frescoes created by the traditions of Armenian, Byzantine and Georgian painting . Frescoes on the walls are preserved in large and small churches, which are connected by a common passage. They were drawn after the Shahanshah’s wife gave the monastery to the Chalcedonian Armenians. The upper aisle of the church was probably painted in 1282, when the aisle of these two churches was painted by order of the monk Gregory. According to research, the paintings in the small church appeared after the death of Shahanshah, around 1261. In the main church of the monastery complex, frescoes were probably created between 1225 and 1250, immediately after the monastery passed into the hands of the Chalcedonian Armenians. The main core of the iconographic program of the church and the monastery narthex is Byzantine, Armenian and Georgian themes are not presented. The apse of the monastery depicts the Mother of God on a throne and «Communion», in the small church — «Deisus» and «Communion» .
The motives of the communion of the apostles are known in Byzantine and Georgian paintings. It is a frequent motif in modern Byzantine frescoes, and a rare fresco from Kobayr. Armenian artists of that time were not fully familiar with this art form, so they used Georgian artists to paint their churches. Despite the common approach to the paintings of Georgian and Armenian Chalcedonian churches, there were differences in the design of the domes of church structures at that time. So, in Georgian churches, images convey the triumphant appearance of heavenly forces. In the Armenian-Chalcedonian frescoes, the theme of praise was connected with the memory of the Savior’s life.