The presence of followers of Christianity in Iran has led to the construction of churches in our country. One of them is the Vank Cathedral, located in the Jolfa neighborhood of Isfahan, inviting you to drink a sip of art, history, and serenity. Not only for its architectural and artistic decorations but also for the vank Cathedral Museum and its fascinating artifacts, it is one of the reasons why tourists are drawn to this attraction.
- Vank Cathedral is one of the most famous churches in Iran and the largest church in Isfahan.
- It is considered the most beautiful church of Isfahan in historical paintings and decorations.
- The church was built with a mix of Iranian and Armenian architecture that is nowhere to be seen.
- Locating this church in the neighborhood of Jolfa in Isfahan allows you to spend some time in the most famous Iranian cafes in this neighborhood besides visiting this church.
It is impossible to walk into the Jolfa neighborhood of Isfahan and not be fascinated by it. According to available information, before the end of the seventeenth century, the city of Isfahan hosted 6 churches, while there were 24 churches in the New Jolfa area (today’s Jolfa neighborhood) and today there are only 13 churches. Each of these churches has its own characteristics, but in the meantime, the Vank Cathedral shines like a diamond in Jolfa and draws you into its world. The Vank or Amna Perkich Cathedral is a historic church dating from the time of King Abbas II. As the most important church in New Jolfa, it has been a center for the training of priests and caliphs and has served as a Christian seminary. Many monks here have grown up and been raised to the highest religious positions. Today, the Vank Cathedral is the center of the Caliphate and the center of the Armenian community of Isfahan and southern Iran with the world and is of particular importance to Armenians.
Over time, this church has seen many historical scenes and is today regarded as the largest museum in Isfahan, displaying unmatched artifacts. The library is one of the most important Armenian studies centers in the world, with historical documents collected over four hundred years. The beautiful space of this church also houses the eternal home of a number of Armenian elders, which adds to its importance.
The Vank complex includes a courtyard, main church, and courtyard, bell house, library, museum, clock tower, bishop’s living rooms, as well as congregational and printing halls, all of which have an area of 8731 square meters. Most of the ancient Armenian churches are made of stone, but the Vank is built of raw clay. The outer wall of the church is covered with bricks and instead of its tiled winged angels. The building has two entrances to the main, which is a large wooden door and is dedicated to people’s traffic. The entrance to this entrance has an image showing the inside view. This image is adorned with azure tiles and gray. After crossing the corridor, you enter a corridor that has two rooms on either side and used to handle Armenian affairs, but now, one as a small shop and the other as a guard room.
The first to draw attention to the entrance to the Vank and to the right of the entrance stairs is the bell tower, built on three floors above the entrance. A large clock weighing 300kg on the second floor of the tower has gained popularity as a clock tower. Initially, the church had no bell tower, and its first tower was built 38 years after the original building was built late, with the cost of an Armenian merchant by the name of Juanjam Jamalian. Underneath the tower, there are two tombs, one of which belongs to an Armenian soldier and the other to an Armenian leader. To the right of the tower, there is a large blue inscription bell tower with cross-stones. These stones are called Khachkar in Armenian and have been moved to the place from the ruined churches of Jolfa and are mounted on the wall. On the roof of the church, above the entrance and between the western wall and the periphery of the small dome of the church there is a square-like area where the small bell tower was built as the second bell tower of the church.
Vank Cathedral Dome
The Vank has two domes: a small dome on the public bench and a large dome on the front of the church altar. As you enter the church, you will notice two square pillars that are 6.25 meters west of the wall, each of which is two meters high. In the western part of the church, using part of these pillars and footings of the sidewalls, they have made four tall arches, each measuring 10.25 m high, with a small dome at the bottom of the church. The large, circular domes look like mosque domes and are inspired by them. The exterior of the dome is adorned with baked brick and its azure interior is adorned with religious images and gilded ornaments. Around this dome, there are eight windows, among them pictures of Adam and Eve, the eating of the forbidden fruit, Abel’s death, and so on.
The main chapel of Vank Cathedral has a parallel plan, consisting of two rectangular sections, the first part of which is the Shepherd House and the second part under the dome is used as a place of worship. On the walls of the chapel walls, multi-colored adobe tiles are used, and on top of them are sacred scrolls that cover the entire surface of the dome. Around the dome, the story of the creation of Adam and Eve is depicted by Armenian painters, and on the beautiful altar of the church, there are images including the image of Christ. There are no decorations on the exterior of the church dome, and the surface is covered with simple bricks.
Vank Cathedral Paintings
What amazes Vank viewers is that they are surrounded by a plethora of colors and roles as they surround the church, as all walls, arches, dome collars, domes and all angles of the church are adorned with oil paint. Most of these paintings depict themes of the Holy Bible. Part of the church has pictures of them from birth to the resurrection of Jesus Christ and hangs on part of the walls, the Day of Judgment, the Day of Judgment, and Heaven and Hell. At the church’s anthem, there are four pictures with gibbets around it where the sacred torture is seen. The images of the hymn of the singers are about Christ, who began in a special room with pictures of the angel preaching to Mary and walking around the church. Middle images include the birth of Jesus Christ, the prostration of the three kings to Jesus, the temptation of Christ by the Devil, the Last Supper, the crucifixion, the ascension of Jesus, and so on. On the north wall of the church, resurrection images are seen, above which is Paradise, the place of salvation, and the lower part of hell, with fiery tongues, multitudes of dragons, and demons, angels hanging over sinners from above. All the decorations and paintings and decorations of the church were provided by a person named Khaje Avedik Stepanos, and Armenian masters, including Hvans Mercos and Pastor Stepanos and Professor Minas, worked on them.
Vank Cathedral Museum
The churches built in Isfahan also included a variety of monuments that were created for scientific and cultural applications, which is why some hundred years ago, a person named Thaddeus the Greeks used his efforts to make room Buildings on the north side of the Church of the Vank Cathedral and preserve books, manuscripts, and historical objects. This was the beginning of the creation of the Vank Museum, though not in its present form. After its ups and downs, the museum has its present form, where you can see books and manuscripts, Armenian anthropological objects, religious objects, oil paintings and more. In 1977 two sculptures made in Italy by the Armenian artist Zavien Aivazian was donated to the museum by two philanthropists and installed at the entrance, representing two important figures: Mesrop Mashtots, inventor of the Armenian alphabet, and Khachatur Gossaratsi, the founder of the printing house in the 17th Century. Today, the Vank Church Museum, more than 100 years old, is considered one of the forerunners of museums in Iran and has always attracted domestic and foreign tourists because of its unique objects and space. Over the past decades, many visitors to the Vank Cathedral Museum, one of the most prestigious and renowned cultural institutions in Isfahan, have enjoyed being in such a diverse environment.
At the time of forced migration, Armenians abandoned everything to come to Iran, but could not afford the books they had in their homes, and with great effort and hardship brought many books with them to Iran and the Jolfa neighborhood. Books are the only wealth of Armenians who will never lose their value in them. The existence of these valuable books led to the opening of a library in Vank in 1884 by the Caliph Hovhannes Sourenyan. There are over thirty thousand books in Armenian, English, Persian and so on. The Vank Library is regarded as one of the most important Armenian centers despite the historical documents in the archives, some dating back more than four hundred years. Armenians can use this library at any time, but service to non-Armenian clients is only possible by submitting a letter, on-site and during office hours.
Vank Cathedral Architecture
All Isfahan churches are built by Armenian architects, but the remarkable thing about them is that there is no similarity between them and the Armenian churches, or even the churches of East and West Azerbaijan such as the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, Haftvan, Zorzor, and Holy Stephanus. As we said, Shah Abbas gave them privileges such as building a church to persuade the Armenians to stay in Iran; Its structure is not similar to other Armenian churches. Constructing their own religious monuments in the manner of Iranian architects, they looked like mosques and took advantage of the artistic heritage of their land and influenced by Iranian art, creating many spectacular works, including the building of churches and luxurious mansions, whose examples are nowhere to be found.
They followed the religious principles and plans of the Armenian churches to build all the churches, but in terms of appearance and outlook, they chose a different style of Armenian architecture and applied the principles of Iranian architecture. It was this combination that created very different buildings in the Jolfa neighborhood. For example, the churches of the Holy Stepanos in Jolfa of Isfahan and the Holy Mother of God in the Abragonis region of Armenia have a kind of plan, but they have a completely different architectural style. Isfahan Armenian Architects created a completely new style of architecture with a clever and artistic blend of Armenian and Iranian architecture and created a different style. Their innovative style was used until the early Qajar period, and the Thaddeus and Bartholomew Church in Tehran is an example of this style.
Exterior and Dome
The exterior of the Jolfa churches of Isfahan is quite different from the other facades of the Armenian churches. The dome of the ancient Armenian churches is cone-shaped, but over most of the churches, there are large and small arched domes inspired by the architecture of the mosques. The large domes are made of double walls, while the domes in Armenian architecture are of a single wall and are of equal size inside and out. Important and interesting in these churches is the art and skill of the architects who have been able to mount the domes of the Iranian architectural style on plans consistent with the domes of the Armenian architectural style and do not damage the building.
A glance at the churches of Jolfa and most importantly of them, Vank, what fascinates you most is the beautiful paintings on the interior walls. It is interesting to know that before the construction of this church, the interior walls of any Armenian church were not painted as widely, and in the tradition of Armenian churches, the exterior walls were carved and the interior walls as simple as possible and it remains without decoration. Armenian artists of Isfahan, inspired by Armenian and Iranian art, inspired by European and especially Italian styles, decorated the walls of Isfahan churches with highly eye-catching paintings with themes drawn from the Holy Bible. The work of the artists was so beautiful that the fame of some of them reached the borders of Iran during their lifetime. For example, one of these artists, the master painter of Asdovadzor, was invited to Moscow in 1667 to paint the walls of the Kremlin Palace, where he worked for thirty years.
By building churches in the Jolfa neighborhood, this way of decorating the interior walls had a profound impact on the architecture of the Armenian churches after the 17th century and gave them a different look. The use of paintings on the inner walls first went to churches on the banks of the Aras River, especially the Nakhchivan region, and then to other areas of Armenia such as Yerevan, Ejmiadzin, etc., which can be described as the best example of Ejmiadzin Church.
Decorations and Windows
But this is not the only painting that has given a different look to the interior walls of Isfahan churches. Another point about these churches is the use of glazed tiles with different designs in the lower part of the interior walls. For the first time in the history of Armenian churches, this method was inspired by Iranian architecture and became a unique decorative style of Isfahan churches. Another point in Isfahan churches is their larger windows compared to their counterparts in Armenia. This will give more light to the church and make the murals look their best.
Another difference in the Isfahan churches was that they initially lacked house bells, and the locals were invited to perform religious ceremonies with the sound of blows on a large wooden chimney. An example of these large sticks is now seen in the Holy Cathedral Church. The first church to be equipped with bells was the Holy Thomas Church, which became known as the Zangdar Church, after which all the churches of Isfahan acquired bell houses of the Armenian architectural style.
The Arrival Of Armenians In Isfahan
During the reign of Shah Abbas, I, the territories of Tabriz to the Caucasus were occupied by the Ottomans, and Shah Abbas moved to Yerevan with a large army of Isfahan for their liberation in the year 1603. Upon reaching Yerevan, he was able to conquer that land and rule it for seven months. Unwilling to clash with the enemy army, after leaving Yerevan, he ordered his troops to withdraw, demanding that they destroy all the towns and villages on their way to the Iranian border to prevent the Ottoman troops from being immediately pursued. They destroyed every town and village on their way, and the inhabitants accompanied them and moved to Iran. Anyone who stood up to them or unable to go would suffer the fate of death. Thus, most of the towns and villages of the Ararat plain of Armenia were destroyed and the Armenians were driven to Iran. Arriving in the city of Vagharshapat, the news of the approach of the Ottoman troops to Shah Abbas came, and he knew that they would have no mercy on anyone, forcing the people to move faster. This increase in speed caused many people who were unable to move, including the elderly, the sick and children, to be killed.
Cross The Aras River
Finally, Shah Abbas was able to reach Jolfa with the Armenian immigrant population. There was now a huge, roaring, dangerous barrier called the River Aras in front of them, and there was no other way than to cross it. They told King Abbas that the Ottoman army had reached Nakhchivan, so there was no other way than to force the Shah to cross the river, knowing that with the arrival of the Ottomans, death was an inevitable destiny for all. Despite all the worries, the Shah ordered his troops to force people to cross the river as soon as possible. About three hundred and fifty thousand tons of Armenians drowned and 300,000 drowned in the river, but the rest were saved by the troops.
Residence Of Armenians In Isfahan
They came to Isfahan and after about fifty years of settling in this city, under the command of King Abbas II, they moved to the south of the Zayandehrood River. Most of these immigrants settled in the southern part of the Maroon Bridge and built new neighborhoods. After this migration, the churches they had previously held inside the city of Isfahan were destroyed and gradually abandoned and destroyed. Today, the only names and brief information of these churches remain, and even their architecture is unknown. In addition to the expulsion, Mahmoud Afghan’s invasion of Isfahan and the slaughter and looting of the city also led many Armenians to flee to safer places and leave the neighborhoods uninhabited. The fate of the Church of a Haunted Neighborhood is nothing but destruction. Most of the churches in these neighborhoods were destroyed by prolonged wars and only a few were rebuilt in the following years, leaving no trace.
Issuance Of permission To Build A Church By Shah Abbas
The Armenians, who had been forcibly removed from their ancestral lands to Isfahan, spoke of returning to their original homeland; They could not even return some of those who had returned to Jolfa to Isfahan. The king of Iran needed a polite policy, on the one hand, to persuade the Armenians to stay in Iran and on the other hand to prevent religious differences because in the early seventeenth century the Armenians of Isfahan were the only Christians who had direct contact with the Muslims and religious differences between them were inevitable. It was for these reasons that Shah Abbas kept Iranians in Iran by giving concessions to the Armenians, including allowing them to build a church. They settled in Jolfa, Isfahan, and sought to establish their own social facilities and religious buildings.
Know more about Isfahan
- Imam Mosque
- Naghsh E Jahan Square
- Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque
- Khaju Bridge
- Ali Qapu Palace
- Menar Jonban