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by Archaeology Newsroom

Armenian gavits and Byzantine litae

In previous publications, the almost simultaneous appearance of wide nartheces in Armenian and Byzantine churches, the “Gavits” and “Litae” was discussed. A hypothesis had been formulated whether this was due to mutual influences or to similar but independent developments. Accordingly, a research project on Armenian Soil was carried out in September 1985.

A. Examination of the Gavits.

1. A cross-examination of Armenian bibliography aimed at: a) a clarification of the role of the Gavit in the church. b) the quest for texts or other material justifying the migration of forms, such as the Gavit, from Armenia towards Greece, Serbia and Mt. Athos; or vice-versa. Except for some theories about “Armenian influences on Byzantine architecture”, in 20th c. texts, no such indication, textual or monumental could be traced.

Such “Armenian influences” supposedly are: (a). The origin of the Athos catholicon. Strzygowski and his followers believe that the existence of side apses and the birth of the founder at Trebizond are sufficient evidence of a Caucasian influence in the formation of the catholicon. Recent publications, internationally accepted, prove that the early catholica on Athos applied In previous publications, the almost simultaneous appearance of wide nartheces , the “Gavits” and “Litae”, both in Armenian and in Byzantine churches, was discussed. A hypothesis was formulated whether this was due to mutual influences or to similar but independent developments. Accordingly, a research project on Armenian Soil was carried out in September 1985.

A visit to a large number of churches equipped with Gavits was effectuated in order to investigate their structural, functional and stylistic elements. The Gavit is the square vestibule erected in front of the church – usually on the same axis – after the death of the church’s donor in order to house his tomb. Besides this commemorative purpose, the Gavit serves secular activities.

The oldest known Greek Liti is that of the Panaghia of Hosios Lucas with two columns, forming an integral part of the building and dating from the second half of the 10th century. Recent remarks of the author indicate the Panaghia as being the result of enlargement-rebuilding of an older church and the Liti as an enlargement of an older narrow narthex .

Wide nartheces were also added to churches in Serbia, later than the ones in Greece: Zica (1220-34) and Studenica (1227-34). However these Serbian vestibules are not incorporated into the building, as is the case in Greece. To trace the origin of this special Greek vestibule, one should emphasize that similar solutions existed in Greece from ancient times, as in arrangements of neighbouring spaces in churches united by two or more columns, such as the trivelon of the Early Christian basilica, or in the Christian Parthenon, where the entrance to the building was transferred to the West and the Parthenon proper or Hall of the Maidens, acted as a perfect four-column Liti to the Christian naos. Mention should also be made of halls in monasteries with four supports of the roof and an oculus, such as the aroulai, the nosokomeia, the photanamata. Thus, one could conclude that the evolution in Greece, from a narrow narthex to a wide one or Liti, was not due to any foreign influences, but was the result of practical needs and functional thinking.

Similarities between Gavits and Litae should be mentioned: (a) The place of the Gavit and the Liti in front of the church and their role as vestibules, (b) Their large dimensions in relation to those of the church (c) The presence of the tomb of the donor in both cases.

As differences should be mentioned such as the Gavit always being a later addition or that the Liti serves only liturgical purposes, whereas the Gavit serves many and varied non-religious needs.

The almost simultaneous appearance of Gavits and Litae during the Middle Byzantine period and after, could not serve as evidence or proof of mutual or onesided influence. The similarity of forms can only be explained as a proof that similar problems of function find similar solutions.