The Structure and Ideology of Khachkar Composition
The life-tree ideology in Khachkar composition, khachkar as a common model of Armenian world
Starting in the early middle ages, the cross had been compared and confronted with tree of life of the Garden of Eden. According to a wide list of depictions the church represents the new paradise, while the cross is the new tree of life. However if the tree of life in paradise had been carrying the forbidden fruit or had been guarded by cherubim, then one of the most characteristic attributes of the new tree of life was its openness, freedom, accessibility - an idea that played a tremendous role also in the public location of khachkars. The theological thought of medieval Armenia is presenting the cross as an unnatural, god created tree that incorporates the best aspects of all "natural" sorts of trees and flowers (brabion flower, Lebanese cedar, platan, cypress, palm, fig-tree etc.). On this tree-flower basis the cross, first of all, gets significance by the fact that it bears the "life fruit" - Christ, by which it becomes a tree of life. It is possible to assert that the khachkar composition, by depicting the cross with olive-tree, palm, lily and other visibly indistinguishable plant decorations and comparisons, is fully in accordance with medieval interpreters. Still it is possible to affirm that the khachkar composition presents much more than what the interpreters have enumerated. The khachkar composition is contrasting the tree sorts and fruits of the holy bible and paradise with the Armenian garden-paradise trees and fruits (grape vine, pomegranate tree, apple tree, and the fruits and flowers of these trees, etc), almost like the Armenians in the Middle Ages were contrasting the gardener image of Christ with the image of the good gardener-king, or the paradise tree of life with grape vine. Therefore the khachkar composition to a certain extent compares the Christian paradise-garden notions with Armenian traditional garden-paradise notions. At the same time the cross is unique, it's the only tree of the world and the universe. The cross appears as a tree grown on the earth and a tree that filled all the territory on the earth, the skies, the space between them, and a tree erected in the universe and as a universe savior tree. In such circumstances the cross could not possibly be depicted in khachkar compositions as just a wooden structure; it should have pointed in a visible manner its growth and flourishing, and especially the divine power of fruitfulness: it should have been vegetated, blossoming, but at the same time with fruits, just as the eternal tree of life of paradise would have been. In 12-14th centuries the classic khachkar composition is full of vegetation, it is flourishing representing the fruitfulness of not only the cross, but also of its environment. If prior to the 11th century the flourishing and fruitfulness of the cross and overall the tree theme was applied to the khachkar by referrals and additions, then with the formation of the final khachkar composition the cross itself received vegetative illustration: each wing of the cross received two branches, which in its turn were completed with a decor consisting of grape triple-leaf and flowers. After this the khachkar composition, as a rule, is appearing with such a "blossoming" cross, which stands on the earth, with its top in the skies, it is blossoming and has leaves, but at the same time has fruits.
During the description of the khachkar composition it has been expressed that it has a triple structure, the middle section of which is occupied by the cross-tree itself, the bottom symbolizes the earth, the top - the skies. The cross-tree by itself points up and down, to the dragon and god, left and right, secular and spiritual, the past and the future, the death and immortality, it categorizes the vegetation, animals, people and saints, in other words obviously integrates several attributes of world tree or tree of universe. It is difficult to pinpoint any other cultural expression in the Armenian Middle Ages that would present the core-common notions of the Armenian society about the world in such a clear, detailed and persuasive manner. All this gives a basis to assert that the khachkar is a model of the medieval Armenian general conception of a world.