The Church of Saint Gregory the Illuminator in Ani was constructed on behalf of the affluent and pious merchant Tigran Honents and was completed in 1215. He not only paid for its construction, but also provided numerous valuable items, such as crosses, lamps, gold and silver vessels, and sacred artefacts. Honents belonged to one of the numerous extremely wealthy merchant families of Ani that amassed considerable wealth primarily through commerce. Although these families were wealthy, they lacked great political or military power.
The building is among the most well-preserved in Ani and boasts frescoes depicting scenes from the Bible and the history of the Church. Sadly, time and acts of hooliganism had a significant impact on the interior. On the outer wall of the church, there is a long Armenian inscription informing that the church was founded by Tigran Honents. Also worth seeing is the well-preserved relief and the small sundial.
Since at the time of its construction, Ani was under Georgian control, it is believed that this church was consecrated in the rite of the Georgian Orthodox Church, and the frescoes inside were created by Georgian artists.
The structure bears a striking resemblance to the cathedral of Ani, albeit on a smaller scale. The architectural layout of the church is of a distinctly rectangular design. The plan of the church is of the type known as a domed hall - it is a single nave divided into three parts with a dome over the central part. In front of the entrance, there is a ruined narthex and a small chapel, from a slightly later period. The exterior of the church is spectacularly decorated. Ornate stone carvings of real and imaginary animals fill the spaces between the blind arcades that run on all four sides of the church.
The interior plan of the building is very similar to other churches from this period of the medieval era. The interior is entirely covered with frescoes, dating to the same times as the church itself. The lavish frescoes were not very appropriate considering the city's precarious economic and political situation in the 13th century, and were at odds with the austerity of Ani's earlier structures.
The fresco cycles have two main themes - the life of Christ and the life of Saint Gregory the Illuminator, to whom the church was dedicated. Saint Gregory was the first leader of the Armenian Apostolic Church and is credited with converting Armenia to Christianity in 301.
In the eastern half of the church there are scenes from the life of Christ, including the Annunciation, the birth of Christ, his entry into Jerusalem, and the raising of Lazarus.
In the western part of the building, there are sixteen scenes from the life of the Saint Gregory the Illuminator – showing, among others, his trial before King Trdat, various tortures inflicted on him, as well as the baptism of King Trdat and the kings of Abkhazia, Georgia, and Caucasian Albania.
Such extensive fresco cycles are rare in Armenian architecture - it is believed that they were made by Georgian artists, and the cycle also includes scenes from the life of Saint Nino, who converted Georgians to Christianity.
The narthex also contained frescoes - now they are mostly destroyed or seriously damaged due to weathering. They come from a slightly later period than those in the church and also differ in style.
The Church of Saint Gregory the Illuminator is located in the eastern part of the city, next to the walls separating Ani from the Arpa Çayı stream, and thus it is easy to miss.