Although Iran is an Islamic country, it is home to churches that are significantly famous for their architecture and artistic elements. Three of these churches exist on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. The ancient age of some of these churches in Iran is evidence to what extend Iranian Muslims have built cultural interactions with Iranians of other religions. History of churches in Iran
Iran is home to around 300 churches and cathedrals where actively celebrate and commemorate Christianity. Iranian Christians, mainly, Armenians and Assyrians practice their religious rites in churches across the country. These churches are majorly in East Azerbaijan and West Azerbaijan, Isfahan, Shiraz and Tehran provinces.
Construction of churches in Iran dates back to the 14th century AD, the era of Shah Abbas Safavid’s reign. Shah Abbas adopted a policy to transfer and settle a number of Armenians from Armenia and Azerbaijan’s cities into Iran. His successor, later built up a close relationship with Europe. In fact on the foundation of the previous king’s policies, he succeeded to construct and refurbish churches in Iran.
Armenian Monastic Ensembles of Iran
Although the Safavid dynasty was sympathetic to Christians and contributed to construction of churches in Iran, it was not the first dynasty to accommodate Christians and to be tolerant of their faith and culture in Iran. The construction of the oldest church in Iran dates back to the 7th century in Iran’s West Azerbaijan Province.
Armenian Monastic Ensembles of Iran bear witness to close interchanges between various regional cultures, particularly Byzantine, Orthodox, Assyrian, Persian and Muslim cultures. As places of pilgrimage, the monastic ensembles are living witnesses of Armenian religious traditions in Iran through the centuries. World Heritage Sites of UNESCO accepted registering these Ensembles in 2008.
St Thaddeus Monastery dates back to the 7th century and is an example of global significance of the Armenian architectural and decorative traditions. Along with St Stepanos Monastery, the Chapel of Dzordzor and the Chapel of Chupan, the St Thaddeus Monastery is a part of the Armenian Monastic Ensembles of Iran in the north-west of the country.History of churches in Iran
St Thaddeus Cathedral
St Thaddeus Cathedral, or the Ghara Kelissa (literal translation from Turkish is the black monastery) is among the most significant churches in Iran.
The name black comes from the color of the facade which is dominantly of black stones and tuff. Natives formerly knew the church by this name: the Ghara Kelissa (or black monastery). During the reign of the Qajar dynasty in 18th century AD, new structures were added to the St Thaddeus Monastery and the renovations resulted in the enlargement of the prayer hall and the small old church was converted into a prayer platform.
The monastery is one of the most ornamented Armenian churches. Experts believe that its history traces back to the advent of Christianity in the first century. The authorities have rebuilt and renovated the church several times during history. However, its current structure has been established between the 4th and the 6th centuries AD. The action was necessary because of enshrining the martyred Saint Thaddeus burial place. It is invaluable to Christian community of Iran and also Armenian community of the world.
Saint Stephanos Monastery
After St Thaddeus Cathedral, Saint Stephanos Monastery is the second respectable Armenian church of Iran. And they built the first monastery of this building in the 7th century. Then they expanded it during the 10th century.
You can see the traces of Armenian architecture style in this church with a hint of Persian art and architecture. Visitors also are able to observe some stalactite works at the site which count as reminiscent of Persian mosques’ architecture.
The Chapel of Dzordzor is the third part of an Armenian monastery in West Azerbaijan Province. Architectures built the monastery in 14th century AD. Although the monastery was abandoned in the 17th century AD, the Chapel of Holy Mother of God is the only part of the monastery still standing today.
Architectures designed Chapel of Dzordzor or the Chapel of Holy Mother of God in a Cross shape.
The monasteries are invaluable sites in Iran. Besides, the governments have renovated them several times to preserve and respect Armenian cultural traditions.
Regardless of Armenian Monastic Ensembles of Iran’s affiliation to Christianity, followers of all religions highly respect the ancient site of the monastery. History of churches in Iran