Surb Astvatsatsin (Holy Virgin) Monastery is situated in Kotayk Province of Armenia in the village of Bjni. It was founded in 1031. Its main Surb Astvatsatsin church was built at the same time by Grigor Magistros Pahlavuni by the order of King Hovhannes Smbat and Catholicos Petros I Getadardz. The monastery was due to become an Episcopal residence.
Surb Astvatsatsin church is a domed hall. The fan shaped dome is resting upon a polyhedral drum. The central niche of the Main altar set off with plaster frame is one of the remarkable architectural and decorative elements. Stone shelves which stretch along the walls were supposedly used for storing a large number of manuscripts written in the monastery.
Surb Astvatsatsin Monastery known also as a «Magistros`s lyceum» was one of the largest centers of Armenian script, education and science. It enjoyed authority under Catholicos Grigor III Pahlavuni, son of Grigor Magistros (XII).
In 1209 the monastery was reconstructed by prince Vahan after Ivaneh and Zakareh Zakarians liberated Bjni from the Seljuk Turks (1201). In 1211 Father Superior Vrtanes constructed secular buildings on the territory of the monastery. In 1272 a vaulted chapel was attached to the church from the south.
There are many khachkars by prominent Armenian masters on the territory of the monastery. Two of them are made by famous medieval master Melikset.
The monastery was damaged during Tamerlane`s invasion. Father Superior of the monastery was killed in the church.
In XV century Surb Astvatsatsin monastery once again became one of the largest spiritual and scientific centers. There were written a number of manuscripts including the Gospel copied by Father Superior Grigor.
According to historical sources (Arakel Davrizhetsi) the monastery was restored by Armenian Catholicos Philippos I Aghbaketsi`s order under sponsorship of Petros from Jugha. Philippe I Akhbaketsi`s disciple Father Superior Movses Rabunapet (1646-1666) built a vaulted refectory in the north of the monastery and a pyramidal circular fence.
In 1637 prominent French traveler Chardin came here for overnight stay. Afterwards he described Surb Astvatsatsin monastery in his works, as well as a French naturalist Pitton de Tournefort, who visited monastery in 1700.
In XIX rooms for study (southern part) and monastic cells were built. In 1895 a school building (western part) was constructed by order of Armenian Catholicos Mkrtich I Vanetsi (Khrimian Hayrig). In 1964 and 1957 Surb Astvatsatsin church was renovated.
There was a legend, according which the monastery and Bjni fortress were connected with secret subterranean road broad enough so those besieged in the fortress were delivered food and drink. A fragment of subterranean passage was found during the excavations but the experts still doubt whether this road was existed. They are inclined to think it`s just a nice legend composed to glorify courageous defenders of the Bjni fortress.