Young French volunteers are helping to restore Armenian crosses, called khachkars (literally “khah-stone and kar crosses”), those beautiful, intricately carved stones that once dotted the countryside and are now an endangered species.
“In the Cross is salvation; in the Cross is life; in the Cross is protection from our enemies; in the Cross is infusion of celestial sweetness; in the Cross is the strength of the spirit; in the Cross is the joy of the spirit; in the Cross is the excellence of virtue; in the Cross is the perfection of holiness. There is no salvation for the soul, nor hope of eternal life, except in the Cross.
Thomas A Kempis’ quote illustrates the power of the cross, Christianity’s most honored symbol.
For the Armenian people, the cross is a source of national pride.
Armenia is a small country, the first country in the world to adopt Christianity. Today, 97% of the population are Christian followers of the Armenian Apostolic Church. Armenian crosses, called khachkars (literally khah“stone” and because, “cross”), are beautiful, elaborately carved stones that once dotted the countryside. They are the foundation of Armenian identity uniting the country, the Church and God.
But khachkars, present in the country since the first century, are an endangered species.
UNESCO recognized these crosses in 2010 as intangible cultural heritage of Armenia, true works of art that are rapidly disappearing.
SOS Calvaires, the French Catholic project involved in restoring ancient crosses across the countryside, understands the dilemma and challenge of nurturing faith and culture. The young adults, all volunteers, saved old crosses and crucifixes, restored them and put them back in place to beautify the French countryside. Driven by faith and love for their heritage, their hard work continues to grow and be recognized throughout France.
Young volunteers offered moral and spiritual support in a recent project to help Armenian Christians build and erect a khachkar in a remote village in Armenia.
SOS Calvaries is very attached to the Armenian cause.
“For several years, the situation in Armenia has been critical. Christians are persecuted and places of worship are destroyed. This is why SOS Calvaires wanted to support Armenia, the cradle of Christianity, by erecting a khachkar on top of a mountain.
The project, also supported by SOS Chrétien d’Orient, began a few months ago and ended with the joyful erection ceremony of the khachkar in the presence of four French volunteers on Pentecost Sunday.
They raised 2500 euros, the amount needed to finance the project. This sum paid mainly for the work of the stonemason but also covered the transport and the installation of the khachkar.
Making a khachkar is not a simple matter. It starts with choosing the right stone maker for the job, master craftsmen who will combine tradition and art.
These artisans work in their workshops on massive blocks of stone, first outlining the shape of the cross, then focusing on the artistic part, the intricate and delicate carvings on the surface of the stone.
For the people of Armenia, a nation that has endured many hardships over the years – witnesses to the mass murder of mankind and victims of the Armenian Genocide during World War I – the visit of the four French volunteers provided solace, motivation and joy.
SOS Calvaires chose to bring a new khachkar to Khosnav, a remote village where the church was destroyed. The transport and installation of the massive cross was carried out with extreme care. Once the foundation of the base was in place, the stele, the main element supporting the cross, was lowered and fixed.
The volunteers described the village as marked, like many others in Armenia, by great poverty and great instability due to the proximity of the Azerbaijani border.
Marguerite Le Page, one of the four volunteers who made the trip to Armenia, said;
“We enjoyed sharing a moment of joy with Armenian Christians. The blessing ceremony was moving; the village was there to watch the erected cross.
Marguerite said the khachkar is about two and a half meters (8 feet) tall and weighs about 500 kilograms (1,102 pounds).
The perfectly visible inscription on the base bears the motto of SOS Calvaires: Stat crum dum volvitur orbis. This powerful Latin phrase translates to The cross is stable while the world turns.
SOS Calvaires plans to later engrave the motto in Armenian.