King of Armenia, reigning 298-330, converted to Christianity in the first few years of the 4th century, thus making Armenia the first truly Christian state. It is still unclear what religion the Armenians practiced before then; pagan temples and names of deities have been found, attempts made to somehow connect these with Greek deities, but this has produced little of value. Certainly there were small, isolated groups of Jews living there at the time, which may possibly have aided in the ease of transition.
According to legend, Trdat actively persecuted the Christians in the early years of his reign. Unfortunately for him, he fell in love with a girl named Hripsime
, a Christian convert and relative of the Julio-Claudian
s, who had come to Armenia as part of a religious group of virgin
s to flee the Roman persecution
. She, of course, refused him, and he had the whole order slaughtered, making her a martyr
The next bit is rather confused; he soon goes insane, and throws the Christian missionary St. Gregory into a pit. Trdat's sister, Khosrovidoukht, soon has a dream, a vision, that his insanity will be cured as soon as Gregory is released. As soon as Gregory is set free, he convinces Trdat to convert, baptizing him and the rest of the royal family. Soon after, Trdat issued a proclamation of the country's conversion, earning Gregory the nickname of "the illuminator", for bringing the light of Christ to Armenia.
Whatever other consequences this had, it earned Armenia the right to form an autonomous church, with its own patriarch. This same freedom led to the formation of an Armenian alphabet by the scribe Mashtots' in order to translate the gospels and religious texts, as well as develop and record a new native literature.
Of course, the story is probably false; Hripsime is first mentioned in much later Byzantine sources, and the tradition seems to have taken hold in Armenia rather late. Still, it is still the official story of the Armenian church, and both Gregory and Hripsime have been named patron saints of the nation.