The Miracles of Martiros Church
1983. Many Americans may remember this as a year when Return of the Jedi came out, leg warmers were popular, and Motorola introduced the first mobile phones, but for Taguhi Zeldian, an Armenian woman living in Los Angeles, it was the year of her miraculous vision.
That year, Taguhi’s nephew had died at the age of fifteen, but he kept reappearing to her in a vision. Over and over again she saw him standing among the columns in a ruined church, and eventually she knew that she had to rebuild it. Her faith led her across the Atlantic ocean, and into what was then Soviet Armenia. She traveled down dirt roads, through mountains and valleys, eventually ending up in the small village of Martiros, where she found the ruins of a church built in 1283 by Prince Prosh and his son Paron Hasan.
All that was left of the church was the columns that Taguhi had seen in her vision, but she was determined to rebuild it. Over the last 33 years, she has accomplished that goal, fully restoring the original church, as well as adding the new All-Holy Trinity Second Jerusalem Church on the original church grounds.
I heard this story from the caretaker of Martiros Church, an older woman who has been serving there for 22 years, and who was kind enough to show us around the site and tell us its secrets. As we approached the All-Holy Trinity Second Jerusalem Church, she handed me the key.
“Use this to open the door,” she said, “And make a wish when you turn it in the lock.”
When I asked her why, she told the story of one of the many miracles she had witnessed during her time as caretaker. Two years ago, she said, an old woman visited this church with her granddaughter an eleven-year-old girl who still couldn’t talk.
“We’ve tried everything,” the grandmother told her in desperation, “We’ve seen so many doctors, and we’ve been to all the churches, but nothing has helped us.”
As the caretaker listened to the other woman’s story, an idea came to her. She took the key to the church, put it in the girl’s mouth, and turned it three times. As she did this, the girl squeezed her grandmother’s hand very tight, and the grandmother felt that the girl was trying to tell her something, that something was happening. They left the church hopeful.
Three months later, the caretaker got a phone call from the grandmother, telling her that the girl had finally started to talk, and that as a display of her gratitude, she wanted to donate $500 dollars to the church. In celebration, they invited all of the soldiers who were serving at the border with Azerbaijan, and sacrificed a lamb together to thank God and pray for peace.
Eventually word got out about the miracle, and the family of another child, a seven-year-old who couldn’t talk, came to the caretaker for help. She tried the same method of turning the key inside the child’s mouth, and once again, it worked. This time, the family donated a cross, one of the many artworks that decorates the main church.
Some are donations from other grateful families, and many are donated by Taguhi herself, as she continues to take constant interest and feel a deep connection with the church. The caretaker told us how a while back, she called from Los Angeles to tell them that one of the picture donations was hanging in the wrong place, and should be put in another building. The caretaker and her family wondered how Taguhi even knew about that painting’s position, being so far away, but they supposed it was the same faith that brought her to this remote spot in the first place.
“There’s lots of power in these stones,” the caretaker told us.
Even though only twenty-five people remain in the original Martiros village (the rest relocated due to fear of landslides), it is a pilgrimage site for the sick, the hopeless, and the deeply spiritual. And, after hearing the stories of Taguhi, the two children, and many other pilgrims who have been granted miracles in this place, it’s impossible not to feel the deep sense of spirituality in this beautiful sanctuary and labor of love nestled among the tall green mountains.