Did You Know? (24)

Saint Martha Church, Tarascon, France

By Jirair Tutunjian, 10 October 2022

The first encounter between Armenians and the French took place in 591 when an Armenian bishop (Simon) met Gregory of Tours in the French city of Tours. In the 9th century Odo of Metz built the church of Germigny-des-Pres in north-central-France. It’s believed Odo was probably Armenian. The church had obvious Armenian architectural influences. In Tarascon’s 13th century St. Martha Church one can see the Armenian alphabet writ on the walls.

James Hashian, author of “Mamigon”, was a reporter and a Washington speech-writer, before becoming a novelist. There’s sufficient circumstantial evidence to claim that he was also the best-selling author Trevanian. Under that pen name, Hashian wrote “The Eiger Sanction,” “The Loo Sanction,” “The Main,” “Shibumi” and “Summer of Kenya. “The Eiger Sanction” was made into a movie starring Clint Eastwood. Hashian was a distant cousin of William Saroyan.

In his famed study of religion and magic (“The Golden Bough”), J.G. Frazier wrote that for good luck ancient Armenians used to throw the wife of a priest into the water. He also wrote: “The Armenians do not throw away their cut hair and navels and extracted teeth but hide them in places that are esteemed holy, such as a crack in the church wall, a pillar of the house or a hollow tree. They think that all these portions of themselves will be wanted at the resurrection…” He also wrote: “In Armenia the noblest families dedicated their daughter to the service of the goddess Anaitis in her temple at Achilisena, where the damsels acted as prostitutes for a long time before they were given in marriage.” Their years as vestal virgins didn’t hurt the marriageability of the young women.

In the late 17th century, the Roman Catholics missionaries were highly successful in converting Armenians of the Ottoman Empire. Armenians were attracted to the Roman church because they paid their priests less, and needed to fast for forty rather than 240 days a year. They also enjoyed the protection of the French embassy. In 1707 the Armenian Patriarch Avedik launched an accusation I the Grand Vizier’s divan against a priest called Gomidas, who had become Catholic. Patriarch Avedik said: “There is great danger that soon all the nation will attach itself to the nation of the Franks and will constitute in your empire an interior enemy.” The priest was executed. Marquis de Ferriol, who was close to the Sublime Porte, retaliated by having Patriarch Avedik kidnapped and taken to France and imprisoned. Three years later, Ferriol returned to France. When a later Grand vizier was told that Ferriol had gone mad, he replied that Ferriol had been mad when he arrived.

Gods of Urartu: Khaldi was the god fire and volcanoes. Later, as a powerful fire god, he acquired the attributes of ruler of the heavens. Teisheba was the god of storms and lightning, and was second in power to Khaldi. Shiwini was the sun god. There were other gods of lesser stature such as Aruvani, the wife of Khaldi.

There was a direct relationship between Urartian deities and those of Armenia.

The Major Armenian Gods: At the top of the Armenian pantheon were Hayk, Ara, Dork, and Vahakn. Hayk, the legendary archer, has been part of Armenian culture and history since time immemorial. He was the primary god of the most prominent group of Urartian tribes, which eventually evolved into the Armenian nation. Hayk derives from Khaldi, whose divine attributes he assumed. He later acquired cosmogonic characteristics. Ara was originally a deity of agriculture and vegetation. He symbolized death and rebirth and eventually was transformed into a sun god. Vahakn  a volcano god, which explains his fiery nature. He was also the god of fire. Aramazt was the supreme, omnipotent deity; the creator of heaven and earth. Anahid was known as “golden Mother,” “Great Lady,” and “the Glorious One.” There were other gods (Naneh, Mihr, Asdghig, and Tir).

The Kings of Urartu: Arame (880-844 B.C) was the first king of Urartu. He was succeeded by fourteen kings (Lutipri, Sarduri I, Ishpiuni I, Menua, Arghishti I, etc. The last Urartian king was Rusa IV (598-590 B.C.).

The first (1863) Armenian periodical in England was “Yergrakound”. It had little literary value, devoting itself to the printing of news. It was founded by Garabed Shahnazarian, a priest who had been invited from Constantinople by the small colony of Armenian merchants in England. But shortly after he became ill and returned to Constantinople where he died in 1865, the newspaper shut down.

One of the key figures of Western Armenian literary renaissance was Mateos Mamourian (1830-1901). A Cambridge-educated intellectual from Smyrna, he distinguished himself as a translator with around 50 volumes of translation of French and English plays and novels to his credit. He was a publicist, novelist, pedagogue, historian, essayist, critic, linguist and political economist. Perhaps his greatest achievement was editing “Arevelian Mamoul” journal.

“The system of the Armenian alphabet is, as everyone knows, a masterpiece. Each of the Phonemes of the Armenian phonetics has its own sign, and the system is so well founded that it has provided the Armenian nation with a definitive system of phonetics which has been maintained to this day without undergoing any alteration, or needing to receive any improvement, for it was perfect from the beginning.”—Antoine Meillet, French philologist (1866-1936).


  1. Once again a magnificent rendition of interesting tidbits of Armenian history and culture by Jirair Tununjian.

  2. Dear Jirair:
    These are interesting. Could you post a photo of the Armenian writing on the wall of La collégiale royale Sainte-Marthe de Tarascon

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