By Afshin Majlesi

Northwest Iran: A verdant realm of ancient churches & monasteries

February 29, 2020 - 23:54

TEHRAN - To the untrained eye, Iran’s earliest churches may seem modest structures to some but they bear testimony to a vast panorama of architectural and decorative scenes associated with Armenian culture blended with other regional cultures: Byzantine, Orthodox, Assyrian, Persian and Muslim.

St. Thaddeus, St. Stepanos and the Chapel of Dzordzor are three photogenic ancient churches that constitute the Armenian Monastic Ensembles of Iran, which were collectively inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage in 2008. They are dotted in fresh and green lands of northwest Iran and are important pilgrimage sites for Armenian-Iranians and others from across the globe.

Also known as the Qareh Klise (“the Black Church”), St. Thaddeus, as one of the oldest surviving Christian monuments in the country, is situated in Chaldoran county some 20 kilometers form Maku, adjacent to the borders of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Turkey.

The ancient Church shows off elaborate bas-reliefs of flowers, animals and human figures on its façade and exterior walls. It bears verses of Old and New Testament in Armenian calligraphy as well.

The Chapel of Dzordzor stands tall on the outskirts of Maku. The name narratively originates from a famous painter Hovans Yerz, known as Dzordzortzi, who supervised the chapel’s restoration for a while.

                                                                                                                   Saint Thaddeus

What is present now is a remnant of the large monastery that once existed there, as the entire chapel has been shifted to a new location 600 meters away due to submergence resulting from a dam that was built on the river. Before the building was dismantled, detailed plans were made and the dismantled elements numbered so that they could be reassembled to the same design at the new site. The reconstruction was carried out in the late 1980s.

St. Thaddeus Monastery plays host an annual religious ritual every summer. Last July, it hosted to over 3,000 Christian worshippers coming together from Iran, Armenia, Syria, Lebanon, the Netherlands, France, Austria, Germany, Canada and some other countries.

Baptism of children and youngsters along with performances of traditional songs and dances are amongst highlights of the pilgrimage.

The festivity is of high importance for Iranian-Armenians who mostly come from the cities of Tabriz, Urmia, Tehran, Isfahan and Qazvin, to stage the reunion in groups and families. It also provides them an opportunity to go on holiday and visit distant relatives.

                                                 The Chapel of Dzordzor

Attendees commemorate the martyrdom of St. Thaddeus, one of the twelve disciples killed while he was preaching the Gospel. The legend says, a church dedicated to him was first built in 68 CE where Qareh Klise is standing.

Thaddeus was an apostle of Christ and the ceremony is rooted in the last supper with Jesus Christ on the night of his arrest and execution by the Roman soldiers.

Christians, Jews, and Zoroastrians are the most significant religious minorities in Iran with Christians constituting the bulk.


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