The Saint Sarkis Church
The Church of Saint Sarkis in Carrollton, Texas is modeled on the ancient church of Saint Hripsime which still stands 8,000 miles to the east near the ancient seat of the Armenian Apostolic Church in Etchmiadzin, within the modern-day Republic of Armenia, The Church of Saint Hripsime, was completed in 618 AD, and the cornerstone of Saint Sarkis was laid exactly fourteen centuries later in 2018.
The Armenian homeland, situated in the South Caucasus, originally encircled Mount Ararat, the tallest mountain in the Middle East where Noah’s ark is said to have come to rest at the end of the Biblical flood. In 301AD the Kingdom of Armenia became the first nation on earth to convert to Christianity, adopting the Christian faith sixty years before the Emperor Constantine established it as the official religion of the Roman Empire. The Church of Saint Hripsime has stood in this seismically active region sheltering Armenian congregations through fourteen centuries as the surrounding Persian, Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Ottoman, Russian and Soviet Empires rose and fell. It serves as s symbol of the continuity and perseverance of the language, faith and traditions of the Armenian people.
The Saint Sarkis church, carrying the memory of this ancient tradition, faces west, overlooking the vast Texas horizon, remembering the distant Armenian homeland from which the ancestors of many members of the congregation were violently expelled during the Armenian genocide of 1915. Millions were driven into the Syrian desert, where they perished of thirst, starvation, exhaustion and exposure. A few survived the desert crossing and reached Lebanon, where an Armenian diaspora community was established. Several members of the Saint Sarkis Congregation, including the primary patron, were born in Beirut and emigrated to America during the Lebanese Civil War. An Armenian diaspora community formed north of Dallas and eventually established the first home for the Saint Sarkis congregation in a converted house purchased in 1990. The Saint Sarkis Church campus is the new home for this original congregation.
Upon stepping through the western façade, which serves as a memorial to the 1.5 million victims of the Genocide, the visitor emerges into the sanctuary, a volumetric composition modeled on the interior of Saint Hripsime. Concave light coves sculpted into the exterior reflect the powerful Texas sunlight indirectly into the interior. The surfaces of the vaulted interior volumes, fabricated in glass-fiber-reinforced gypsum, are smooth and scaleless, with no visible lighting fixtures, air-conditioning registers or other contemporary technical details to interrupt the luminous spatial figure. The result is a figure of architectural space filled with an ethereal quality of light, in which Illumination reaches the congregation through the weightless memory of the ancient church of Saint Hripsime suspended over the sanctuary.
The church is heated and cooled with a displacement climate control system, which uses a remotely located mechanical plant to introduce conditioned air at low velocity through floor registers located under the pews. The result is a silent interior, free of the mechanical vibration or ambient noise of a conventional high velocity air conditioning system, offering a silent backdrop for the reverberant acoustics of traditional Armenian choral music.
Photography by Dror Baldinger