Cradle of Civilization

A Blog about the Birth of Our Civilisation and Development

Iran – A land of Armenian churches

Posted by Fredsvenn on November 12, 2014

UNESCO World Heritage Site – St. Thaddeus Monastery

UNESCO World Heritage Site – St. Stephanos Armenian Church – Jolfa

UNESCO World Heritage Site – Chapel of Dzordzor

Situated in the north-west of the country the property consists of three monastic ensembles of the Armenian Christian faith: St Thaddeus, known also as the Black Church (Ghara Kelisa), the St Stepanos and the Chapel of Dzordzor ( also known as Qara Kelisa).

These churchs – the oldest of which, St Thaddeus, dates back to the 7th century – are examples of outstanding universal value of the Armenian architectural and decorative traditions. They bear testimony to very important interchanges with the other regional cultures, in particular the Byzantine, Orthodox and Persian.

Situated on the south-eastern fringe of the main zone of the Armenian cultural space, the monasteries constituted a major centre for the dissemination of that culture in the region. They are the last regional remains of this culture that are still in a satisfactory state of integrity and authenticity. Furthermore, as places of pilgrimage, the monastic ensembles are living witnesses of Armenian religious traditions through the centuries.

The Church of St. Thaddaeus is probably Iran’s most interesting and notable Christian monument. While not easy to reach, it warrants a detour. One of the 12 disciples, Thaddaeus (also Jude), was martyred while spreading the Gospel to this part of Iran in the 1st century. He’s revered as an apostle of the Armenian Church. As legend has it, a church dedicated to him was first built on the present site in 68 AD.

Nothing appears to remain of this original church, which was extensively rebuilt in the 13th century, but some parts around the altar may date from the 10th century. Most of the present structure dates from the 17th century and is of carved sandstone. The earliest parts are of black and white stone. The church is protected within a thick wall, which also forms the outer ramparts of some abandoned monastery buildings.

There are quite a few other more or less abandoned Armenian churches in the surrounding hills. In the very Northwest corner and somewhat cut-off from the rest of Iran, lies the small city of Orumiye. Formerly Rezalye, Orumiye lies west of the lake with the same name, and may date back to the mid-2nd millennium BC.

It is one of many claimants to be Zoroaster’s birthplace. It is of interest as the site of one of Iran’s largest and longest established Christian communities. The main groups are Chaldeans, Nestorians, and Armenians, whose denominations predate even the church of Rome, but several others are also represented, including Eastern Orthodoxists, remnants of a White Russian influx in the 1920’s.

Tabriz also has numerous Armenian Churches, including one mentioned by Marco Polo in his travels. In Esfahan, just south of the river by Sio Se Pol is Jolfa, the Armenian quarter. During his wars with the Turks, Shah Abbas in 1606 founded this quarter just outside the city of Esfahan, granted land to the Armenians whom he resettled and encouraged them to carry on their religion and commerce here. Jolfa is still almost exclusively Christian and has for years been the seat of the Armenian Archbishop of Iran and India.

The most important building is the All Saviour’s Cathedral (Kelisa-ye Vank), built between 1655 and 1664. The influence of Islam on architecture has been so strong since the Arab conquest that even Christian buildings incorporate many Islamic features, and this one, with its onion dome, pointed arches, and even a minaret-like spire, is no exception.

A museum stands in the grounds, as well as a memorial to the estimated 1.5 million Armenians massacred in Turkey in 1915. Jolfa has 12 churches, all dating from the 17th century; the most interesting one is Bethlehem Church (Kelisa-ye Beit-ol-Lahm), founded in 1628.

St. Thaddeus Monastery

Saint Stepanos Monastery

Iran is the only of our neighbours who treats our churches with respect…Thank you!

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