By Mesut Varol
VAN, Turkey (AA) - A millennium-old Armenian church this Sunday celebrated a special mass in eastern Turkey.
The Armenian Akdamar Church of the Holy Cross – an invaluable piece of Turkish cultural heritage located in the Van province – hosted the mass amid precautionary measures due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The 1,100-year-old church is opened for worship once a year with special permission of the Turkish Culture and Tourism Ministry.
The mass, which normally draws thousands of local and international tourists, this year gathered a limited number of visitors due to virus safety measures.
The roughly two-hour mass ceremony aired live. A team of 25 people came from Istanbul to perform the ritual.
Speaking to the press afterwards, Van Governor Mehmet Emin Bilmez said that due to virus measures: “Today, a small group of the Armenian community performed a symbolic ritual here.”
Sahak Mashalian, head of the Armenian Patriarchate in Istanbul, thanked officials who made it possible to hold the mass.
Akdamar Church, a medieval Armenian place of worship in Turkey’s eastern Van province, was built around 915-921 A.D. by architect Bishop Manuel under the direction of King Gagik I Artsruni.
The church, which has a special place in East-West Christian art, carries the most important adornments and the most comprehensive wall reliefs of its time and was added to UNESCO’s Tentative List of World Heritage in 2015.
Turkey's Culture and Tourism Ministry has done extensive renovation and restoration work to bring the medieval church back to its former glory.
On Sept. 19, 2010, Akdamar Church hosted its first service after a 95-year break. The church opened for service every year for one day, with the last service in 2019 attracting thousands of local and international tourists to Van.