Armenian monastic ensembles

January 2, 2012 - 16:18
altThe Armenian monasteries of Iran have borne continuous testimony, since the origins of Christianity and certainly since the 7th century, to Armenian culture in its relations and contact with the Persian and later the Iranian civilizations. They bear testimony to a very large and refined panorama of architectural and decorative content associated with Armenian culture, in interaction with other regional cultures: Byzantine, Orthodox, Assyrian, Persian and Muslim. 

The monasteries have survived some 2,000 years of destruction, both of human origin and as a result of natural disasters. They have been rebuilt several times in a spirit in keeping with Armenian cultural traditions. Today they are the only important vestiges of Armenian culture in this region. Saint-Thaddeus, the presumed location of the tomb of the apostle of Jesus Christ, St. Thaddeus, has always been a place of high spiritual value for Christians and other inhabitants in the region. It is still today a living place of pilgrimage for the Armenian Church.

The state party has made a remarkable long-term effort regarding the restoration and conservation of the Armenian monastic ensembles in Iran. Their integrity and authenticity are satisfactory, and this includes the Chapel of Dzordzor, which (because of a dam construction project) was moved and then rebuilt with an evident concern to retain authenticity.
The legal protection in place is adequate. The monastic ensemble is currently in a good state of conservation. The management plan provides the necessary guarantees for the long-term conservation of the property and the expression of its outstanding universal value. (Source: UNESCO)

The Saint Thaddeus Monastery
The famous and marvelous monastic complex of St. Thaddeus is located in the mountainous area of western Azerbaidjan Province. It is perched on a mountain ridge beside a stream sunken into the rock, thus giving it a natural fortified position.

The outline of it, placed on gently rolling hills, stands out sharply against the vastness of the horizon. Sourb Thade (St. Thaddeus) or Kara-Kilise (the black church) as it is called by the people of Northern Iran, forms a harmonious, integral part with its surroundings both in the material with which it is constructed, and in its form. The location of the monastery was surely chosen for strategic reasons, for it was built during a period when neighboring peoples seriously threatened it.

The thick walls around the monastery, also, had an important defensive function during sieges, and the complex was built especially to withstand them. It is situated within a natural circle of mountains, a short distance from a river. Wells drilled within the enclosure guaranteed a water supply. The church was surrounded by vast, fertile fields, quite suitable for farming, and therefore capable of supplying food for both men and animals. The harvest was well protected in special storage rooms, thus enabling the monastery to keep its independence and relative security. Although it is not dated, according to the legend, the monastery was founded by Apostle Thaddeus (66AD) on the spot of a former pagan temple.

Time after time it was destroyed by invasions, and struck by earthquakes, the most devastating of which occurred in 1319. The monastery was rebuild, and further renewed and enlarged during the course of the following centuries. Most of the present structure dates from the early 19th century when Qajar prince Abbas Mirza helped in renovations and repairs. 

The 19th century additions are from carved sandstone. The earliest parts are of black and white stone, hence its Turkish name Kara Kilise, the Black Church. A fortified wall surrounds the church and its now-abandoned monastery buildings.
In July 2008, the St. Thaddeus monastery was added to UNESCO's World Heritage List, along with two other Armenian monuments located in the same province: Saint Stepanos Monastery and the chapel of Dzordzor.