Young French volunteers are helping restore Armenian crosses, called khachkars (literally " khah- stone and kar cross"), the beautiful, elaborately 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 against our enemies; in the Cross is infusion of heavenly sweetness; in the Cross is strength of mind; in the Cross is joy of spirit; in the Cross is excellence of virtue; in the Cross is perfection of holiness. There is no salvation of soul, nor hope of eternal life, save in the Cross.”
The quote by Thomas A Kempis illustrates the power of the Cross, the most honored symbol of Christianity.
For the people of Armenia, 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 kar, “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 an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Armenia, true works of art that are disappearing fast.
SOS Calvaires, the French Catholic project involved in restoring ancient crosses throughout the countryside, understand the dilemma and the challenge of nurturing faith and culture. The young adults, all volunteers have been rescuing ancient crosses and crucifixes, restoring them and putting them back once again to beautify the French countryside. Driven by faith and love of their heritage their hard work continues to grow and be recognized throughout France.
Young volunteers offered their moral and spiritual support in a recent project helping Armenian Christians construct and erect a khachkar in a remote village in Armenia.
SOS Calvaires feels strongly about 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, started some months ago and ended with the joyful ceremony of erecting the khachkar in the presence of four volunteers from France on Pentecost Sunday.
They raised 2500 euros, the amount necessary to finance the project. This sum mainly paid for the work of the stonemason but also covered the transport and laying of the khachkar.
Making a khachkar is not a simple affair. It begins with choosing the right stone maker for the job—master artisans who will combine tradition and art.
These craftsmen work in their ateliers on massive blocks of stone, first outlining the shape of the Cross and then concentrating on the artistic part, the intricate and delicate carvings on the stone’s surface.
For the people of Armenia, a nation that has suffered many hardships over the years– witnesses to the the mass murder of humanity, and victims of the Armenian Genocide during World War I — the visit of the four French volunteers brought comfort, motivation, and joy.
SOS Calvaires chose to bring a new khachkar to Khosnav, a remote village where the church was destroyed. Transporting and installing the massive cross took place with extreme care. Once the base foundation was set in place, the stele, the main component supporting the cross, was lowered and fixed.
The volunteers described the village as one marked, like many others in Armenia, by great poverty and significant instability due to the proximity to the Azeri border.
Marguerite Le Page, one of the four volunteers who made the trip over to Armenia, said;
“We enjoyed sharing a moment of joy with Armenian Christians. The benediction ceremony was moving; the village was there to watch the cross erected.”
Marguerite said the khachkar is about two and a half meters (8 ft) tall and weighs around 500 kilograms(1102 pounds).
The inscription perfectly visible on the base foundation carries the motto of SOS Calvaires: Stat crum dum volvitur orbis. This powerful Latin phrase translates as The cross is steady while the world is turning.
SOS Calvaires plans to have the motto engraved in Armenian later.