This Monday and Tuesday, May 31 and June 1, the Armenian Church commemorates the virgin saints Hripsime and Gayane and their companions. Thirty-three nuns, led by Gayane, left Rome and sought refuge in Armenia hoping to escape the Roman Emperor who desired one of the nuns, the beautiful Hripsime. In Armenia, King Dertad became captivated by Hripsime’s beauty and sought to wed her. She refused. Enraged, the king had Hripsime (and the other nuns) imprisoned and tortured to death.
When Gregory was released from his imprisonment in the deep pit (Khor Virab) he built chapels over the relics of the nuns, which Catholicos Sahag Bartev renovated in the 4th century. During the 7th century, churches were built over both sites. The church dedicated to Hripsime, built by Catholicos Gomidas, is considered an architectural masterpiece and influenced the future course of Armenian architecture. Catholicos Gomidas also wrote a sharagan (hymn) in their memory—the well-known Antsink Nviryalk (Dedicated Beings).
The two churches, as well as a third (Shoghakat), are in the city of Etchmiadzin (Vagharshapat), not far from the complex of buildings that comprise the Holy Mother See of Etchmiadzin, designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage site.