VAN — The annual Divine Liturgy was held at Surb Khach (Holy Cross) Armenian Church on Akhtamar Island in Lake Van on Sunday amid precautionary measures due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The mass, which normally draws thousands of local and international tourists, this year gathered a limited number of visitors due to virus safety measures.

A 25-member delegation accompanied the Armenian Patriarchate of Constantinople, Archbishop Sahak Mashalyan, who presided over the mass. Religious services were resumed in the church in 2010 after a 95-year hiatus.

Akhtamar church was built between 915 and 921 A.D. by architect Bishop Manuel under the sponsorship of Gagik I Artsruni of the Kingdom of Vaspurakan.

The church, which has a special place in East-West Christian art, carries the most important adornments and the most comprehensive wall reliefs of its time and was added to UNESCO’s Tentative List of World Heritage in 2015.

The church was abandoned after the Armenian Genocide of 1915. Believed to have been constructed to house a piece of the “True Cross,” which was used in the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, the church was restored in 2005 and opened in 2007. The church is usually open to visitors as a museum.

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