Iranian churches added to UNESCO World Heritage List

July 9, 2008 - 0:0

TEHRAN – The Iranian churches St. Thaddeus, St. Stephanus, and Dzordzor (Zorzor) in East Azerbaijan Province and West Azerbaijan Province were registered on the UNESCO’s World Heritage List.

The decision was made during the World Heritage Committee session in Quebec, Canada on July 6.
The UNESCO website described the monuments as “examples of outstanding universal value of the Armenian architectural and decorative traditions” and adding, “They bear testimony to very important interchanges with the other regional cultures, in particular the Byzantine, Orthodox and Persian.”
The committee also asked Iran to give an inclusive report on the modifications to be carried out on the Jahan-Nama Tower by February 2009, Iranian representative in the session Mehdi Musavi told the Persian service of CHN on Monday.
The tower spoils the horizontal view of the Naqsh-e Jahan Square, another Iranian complex in Isfahan, which was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1979.
In addition, the committee decided Iran’s Bam Cultural Landscape will remain on UNESCO’s List of World Heritage in Danger until 2010. Bam, a historical city located in Kerman Province in southern Iran, was almost totally destroyed by a devastating earthquake on December 26, 2003.
---St. Thaddeus Church---
The St. Thaddeus Church, also known as the Black Church (Qara Kelissa), is probably Iran’s most interesting and notable Christian monument, located near the Chalderan region in Maku, West Azerbaijan.
Christians from all over the world annually gather at the church on July 1 for their annual commemoration of the martyrdom of St. Thaddeus.
One of the 12 disciples, St. Thaddeus, also known as St. Jude, (not to be confused with Judas Iscariot), was martyred while spreading the Gospel. He is 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 CE.
Nothing appears to remain of this original church, which was extensively rebuilt in the 13th century, but some sections around the altar may date to the 10th century. Most of the present structure dates to the 17th century and is of carved sandstone. The oldest sections are made of black and white stone.
The Apostles Thaddeus and Bartholomew traveled through Armenia in 45 CE to preach the word of God. Many people were converted and numerous secret Christian communities were established there.
Around that time, Abgar died after ruling for 38 years and the Armenian kingdom was split into two parts. His son Ananun crowned himself in Edessa, while his nephew Sanatruk ruled in Greater Armenia. About 66 CE, Ananun gave the order to kill St. Thaddeus in Edessa. The king’s daughter Sandokht, who had converted to Christianity, was martyred with Thaddeus. Her tomb is located near the St. Thaddeus Church.
The church is surrounded by thick walls which form the outer ramparts of some abandoned monastery buildings.
---St. Stephanus Church---
According to Hayk Ajimian, an Armenian scholar and historian, the church was originally built in the ninth century CE, but repeated earthquakes in region severely damaged the original structure.
Located near Marand in East Azerbaijan, the church was renovated during the reign of the Safavid king Shah Abbas (1588-1629).
The general structure of the St. Stephanus Church, which also known as St. Stepanos, mostly resembles Armenian and Georgian architecture and the inside of the building is adorned with beautiful paintings by Honatanian, a renowned Armenian artist.
The Armenian Orthodox primate of the diocese of Tehran, Archbishop Sebuh Sarkisian, said on Thursday that some of the remains recently discovered in Iran’s St. Stephanus Church may be the bones of John the Baptist.
In July 2005, Shahriar Adl, the director of the team documenting three Iranian churches for registration on UNESCO’s World Heritage List, said that they had discovered a box at the St. Stephanus Church containing the bones of one of the successors of the Apostles of Jesus.
The Armenian Orthodox primate of the diocese of Tehran, Archbishop Sebuh Sarkisian, approved the report in his August 2005 interview, adding, “About the box, which contains the remains of the apostles’ bodies and was found under the altar of the St. Stephanus Church, it is said that the box contains the body of John the Baptist. According to Armenian historian Arakel Davrizhetsi (17th century), the box, which was located under the main altar of the Church of the Holy Trinity in old Jolfa and contained the sacred remains and a scroll, was given to Shamun, the archbishop of St. Stephanus Church, after the Church of the Holy Trinity was destroyed.”
“The remains may very likely have historic value. According to the tradition of the church, we know that after St. Gregory the Illuminator was consecrated as archbishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia, in a friendly gesture, he gave some remains of John the Baptist to Quintius, the archbishop of the region, during his return trip to Armenia. The remains were transferred to the John the Baptist Cathedral in the city of Mush in Armenia.
“Now, the remains were somehow transferred to another place, as a consequence of the wars and chaotic conditions prevailing in the land over past centuries, in which believers and church fathers changed the location of the box in order to safeguard it. A French traveler (Jean Baptiste Tavernier, 1605-1689), who saw a box at the St. Stephanus Church when he visited the place in the 17th century, had said that the box contained the body of one of the Apostles,” Sarkisian said.
Some historical sources, such as some photos kept at Tehran’s Golestan Palace, and the photos taken by Ali Khan Vali, the governor of northern Azerbaijan during the reign of the Qajar king Nasser ad-Din Shah and kept in the Adl family archives, indicate that the bones of Saint Stephanus (Saint Stephen), Saint Matthew, and the Prophet Daniel, are being kept in the St. Stephanus Church.
---Dzordzor Church---
Located in the village of Barone in Zangar Valley of Chaldoran region in the north of West Azerbaijan Province, the church was built in 1315 CE.
--- Iranian sites on World Heritage List--
1. Chogha Zanbil, Khuzestan Province, 1979
2. Persepolis, Fars Province, 1979
3. Naqsh-e Jahan Square, Isfahan Province, 1979
4. Takht-e Soleiman, West Azerbaijan Province, 2003
5. Pasargadae, Fars Province, 2004
6. The city of Bam and its Cultural Landscape, Kerman Province, 2004
7. Soltanieh Dome, Zanjan Province, 2005
8. Bisotun, Kermanshah Province, 2006
9. Northwest Iran’s historic churches St. Thaddeus and St. Stephanus, West Azerbaijan Province; and Dzordzor (Zorzor), East Azerbaijan Province, 2008
Photo: Iranian Armenian youths walk near Qareh Kelissa (black church) during an Armenian religious festival in Qara Kelissa village, in the Chaldoran valley, northwest of Iran, 21 July 2007. (AFP/Getty Images)