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This stunning church pays tribute to the victims of the Armenian genocide

Saint Sarkis Armenian Church in Texas mixes old and new with a digitally printed facade that represents the 1.5 million people killed during the genocide.

This stunning church pays tribute to the victims of the Armenian genocide
[Photo: Dror Baldinger FAIA/courtesy David Hotson]

In the Dallas suburb of Carrollton, Texas, a new church has just risen from some very ancient and distant roots. Saint Sarkis Armenian Church, which was consecrated on Saturday, is a nearly exact recreation of a stone church outside of the Armenian capital of Yerevan that dates back more than 14 centuries.

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[Photo: Dror Baldinger FAIA/courtesy David Hotson]
Designed by New York-based architect David Hotson, Saint Sarkis is a light-filled modern take on the ancient church form, with gray concrete, zinc, and a porcelain façade standing in for the massive stone blocks used by the original church’s builders. Coves on the perimeter of the octagonal building create entry points for the indirect natural light that floods the white interior of the church’s sanctuary, and its dome uses the same scale and proportion of its historical precedent. “It’s a memory of the original building, through which light reaches the congregation,” Hotson says. The most notable element of the design is a digitally printed porcelain façade that references a more recent, and more devastating, part of Armenian history.

[Photo: Dror Baldinger FAIA/courtesy David Hotson]
Saint Sarkis is an attempt to honor the history of the world’s first Christian nation and its unique plight. Nestled between ancient Persia, the former Ottoman Empire, and the former Soviet Union, Armenia has endured external incursions and aggressions for centuries, the most significant being the genocide in the early 1900s that killed an estimated 1.5 million people. Saint Sarkis uses ancient architecture to preserve this history, and pay tribute to the lives lost in that genocide.

[Photo: Dror Baldinger FAIA/courtesy David Hotson]
The church on which Saint Sarkis is modeled, Saint Hripsime, was built in the seventh century and is still standing today. “It’s an archetype of Armenian ecclesiastical architecture that has endured earthquakes and invasions and every imaginable crisis. So, it’s a symbol of the endurance and tenacity and continuity of the Armenian people,” says Hotson, who previously had an office in Yerevan. “It was built in 618. The cornerstone of [Saint Sarkis] was laid exactly 1,400 years later in a vastly different place.”

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[Photo: Dror Baldinger FAIA/courtesy David Hotson]
The Texas church is a world away from its Armenian homeland, but also an example of the way that Armenians were forced to find new homes and establish new communities during and after the genocide. Many Armenians fled and relocated in the early 1900s as the Ottoman Empire engaged in systematic campaign to eliminate them, spreading into clusters around the world, from Beirut to Paris to Boston to Fresno, California, to greater Dallas. While this diaspora survives, more than half of the original Armenian population fell victim to the genocide.

[Photo: Dror Baldinger FAIA/courtesy David Hotson]
This trauma is represented on one side of Saint Sarkis’s façade in an intricate artwork digitally printed on porcelain. Resembling a floral-draped Armenian cross from a distance, the 1,500-square-foot artwork is made up of 1.5 million circular emblems, each about a centimeter in diameter, representing those killed during the genocide. Using a computer script, each of the emblems was designed to be distinct. “You have a very vivid impression of the scale of the genocide and the number of unique individuals that perished,” he says.

[Photos: Dror Baldinger FAIA/courtesy David Hotson]
The church had its first Sunday service on April 24, the annual date used to memorialize the Armenian Genocide.

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[Photo: Dror Baldinger FAIA/courtesy David Hotson]
Hotson says the historically inspired church is a kind of bridge between the diaspora community in Texas and their cultural homeland, but also a way to make the history of the Armenians better known to the world. The church is opening at a unique time for that, he says, as nations around the world grapple with the massive scale of deaths caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“In this moment, when the United States has lost a million people out of a population of 350 million and we essentially shut down the country for two years to avoid a worse outcome, it puts this 1.5 million out of a population of about two and a half million in a different perspective,” he says.

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