In the 13th edition of the 1892 publication, “The Collection of Materials to Describe the Terrain and Tribes in the Caucasus,” Chaykend (Getashen) school inspector A. Tumanov penned an article dedicated to the Monastery of St. Thomas in the village Verin (“Upper”) Agulis in Nakhichevan uyezd of the Erivan Governorate of the Russian Empire.
“The monastery to St. Thomas the Apostle is in the village Verin Agulis in Nakhijevan uyezd, Erivan Governorate, 5 versts from [the] town Ordubad,” Tumanov writes (1 verst = 1.067 kilometers).
The road to the monastery is protected on two sides by mountains, and from a third side by the Arpa River. It takes visitors to their destination through the village of Verin Agulis. The Armenians constitute the dominating element of the population of the village. Every year, on St. Thomas the Apostle’s day, Christians gather in the monastery for worship, headed by a special superior appointed by the Etchmiadzin synod.
“Even though the monastery is not considered to be a parish church, the evening and morning worship services conducted there are attended by many inhabitants of Agulis,” Tumanov notes.
The article also recounts a noteworthy legend about the creation of the monastery to St. Thomas the Apostle. According to the legend, the monastery was founded by Bartholomew the Apostle, who was sent to Armenia by Jesus Christ after his ascension to heal the King Abgar from a grave disease. While St. Bartholomew was in Agulis, St. Thomas the Apostle was preaching in India. Hearing about Thomas’ martyrdom, Bartholomew built a chapel in Nakhichevan to the Martyr’s memory. Later on, St. Gregory the Illuminator turned it into a monastery.
The author cites an inscription carved on the Western doors of the monastery temple, which testifies, “Bartholomew, who came to the Armenians and founded here this House of God in the name of St. Thomas, consolidated the throne of his disciple Komsi. He appointed him to be the head of the congregation of Goghtn canton (one of the cantons in ancient Armenia, comprising the aforementioned villages and town of Ordubad – author’s note): Blizhniy Agulis (“Near” Agulis) and much-praised Dasht (Nerkin (‘Lower’) Agulis), annexing also Tsgna, Ramis, Busta, Faraka, Bugrut … Dastak, Vanand, Trunis, Tnakert, Obovanis, Kaghakik, Anapat, Handamej, Verin Get, Kesher, Nusnis and Ordubad. After coming and seeing Nomos (Bartholomew’s disciple, whose tomb is in Agulis, local legends say – author’s note), St. Gregory confirmed this in 305 AD and made a copy of this inscription.”
Another testimony inscribed on the Western wall of the temple says the monastery was last renovated in 1694. “It is built of ashlar facing with solid masonry of lime mortar. A majestic dome towers up by the Western narthex,” Tumanov says of the way the monastery looked by the end of the 19th century.
St. Thomas’ Monastery (“Tovma” in Armenian) was destroyed by Azerbaijani authorities sometime in the 21st century.
“The Collection of Materials to Describe the Terrain and Tribes in the Caucasus” is a large-scale publication of narrative sources carried out by the management of the Caucasus Educational Okrug in 1881-1908. It includes researches and description of the history, life, and ethnographic characteristics of the peoples inhabiting the Caucasus region of the Russian Empire.