Tiridates III (or Trdat III; Armenian: Տրդատ Գ; 250s – circa 330) was the king of Arsacid Armenia (285-339), and is also known as Tiridates the Great Տրդատ Մեծ; some scholars incorrectly refer to him as Tiridates IV as a result of the fact that Tiridates I of Armenia reigned twice). In 301, Tiridates proclaimed Christianity as the state religion of Armenia, making the nation-state the first in history to do so. He is recognized as a saint by the Armenian Apostolic Church.
The traditional story of the conversion of the king and the nation tells of how Gregory the Illuminator, the son of Anak, was a Christian convert who, feeling guilt for his own father’s sin, joined the Armenian army and worked as a secretary to the king. Christianity in Armenia had a strong footing by the end of the 3rd century AD but the nation by and large still followed Armenian pagan beliefs. Tiridates III was no exception as he too worshiped various ancient gods. During a pagan religious ceremony Tiridates III ordered Gregory to place a flower wreath at the foot of the statue of the goddess Anahit in Eriza. Gregory refused, proclaiming his Christian faith. This act infuriated the king. His fury was only exacerbated when several individuals declared that Gregory was, in fact, the son of Anak, the traitor who had killed Tiridates’s father. Gregory was tortured and finally thrown in Khor Virap, a deep underground dungeon.
During the years of Gregory’s imprisonment, a group of virgin nuns, lead by Gayane, came to Armenia as they fled the Roman persecution of their Christian faith. Tiridates III heard about the group and the legendary beauty of one of its members, Rhipsime. He brought them to the palace and demanded to marry the beautiful virgin; she refused. The king had the whole group tortured and killed. After this event, he fell ill and according to legend, adopted the behavior of a wild boar, aimlessly wandering around in the forest. The king’s sister, Xosroviduxt, had a dream wherein Gregory was still alive in the dungeon and he was the only one able to cure the king. At this point it had been 13 years since his imprisonment, and the odds of him being alive were slim. But they retrieved him and despite being incredibly malnourished he was still alive. He was reportedly kept alive by a kindhearted woman that threw a loaf of bread down in Khor Virap everyday for him.
Tiridates was brought to Gregory, and was miraculously cured of his illness in 301 AD. Persuaded by the power of the cure, the king immediately proclaimed Christianity the official state religion. And so, Armenia became the first nation to officially adopt Christianity. Tiridates III appointed Gregory as the first Catholicos of the Armenian Apostolic Church.