Isfahan Vank Cathedral Introduction | An artistic masterpiece in the Christian world
The presence of Christianity followers in Iran has led to construction of churches in this country. One of them is called Vank Cathedral which is located in the Julfa neighborhood of Isfahan, and invites you to drink a sip of art, history and tranquility. Not only is it famous for its architecture and artistic decorations, but also the Vank Cathedral museum and its interesting heritages are among the reasons why tourists pay attention to this attraction. We also enter Isfahan and find the Vank Church here and visit inside. Join Chiyakotravel to get to know this church better.
Why Vank Cathedral?
- Vank Cathedral is one of the most famous churches in Iran and the largest church in Isfahan.
- This building is known as the most beautiful church in Isfahan in terms of historical paintings and decorations.
- This church is built with a combination of Iranian and Armenian architecture, the same of which can not be seen anywhere in the world.
- You can also visit the Vank Church museum here.
- The location of this church in Julfa neighborhood of Isfahan allows you to spend happy moments in the most famous cafes of Iran in this neighborhood.
Introduction to Vank Cathedral | A touch of spirituality in history
It is impossible to enter into Julfa neighborhood of Isfahan and not be enchanted by this masterpiece. It is as if time has gone back and a different atmosphere prevails in the space. According to available information, before the end of the seventeenth century AD, the city of Isfahan hosted 6 churches. While in the area of New Julfa (modern Julfa neighborhood) there were 24 churches. Today there are only 13 of them left. Each of these churches has its own characteristics, but in the meantime, Vank Cathedral shines like a jewel in Julfa and draws you into its world.
Vank Cathedral or Āmenāperkič is a historic church dating back to the time of Shah Abbas II. As the most important church in New Julfa, this church was a center for the training priests and caliphs and played the role of a Christian seminary. Many monks have grown up here and have reached the highest religious positions. Today, Vank Cathedral is the center of the caliphate and the center of communication between the Armenians of Isfahan, southern Iran and the world. It is a special place and has great importance for Armenians.
Over time, this church has seen many historical scenes and today by displaying unique heritages, it is known as the largest museum in Isfahan. The library of this collection is one of the most important centers of Armenian studies in the world with its historical documents that have been collected over four hundred years. The beautiful atmosphere of this church is also the eternal home of a number of Armenian elders and this adds to its importance. The unique features of this church have caused its name to be included in the list of national monuments of Iran from December 6, 1961 with the number 85.
Lets enter the Vank Church
The Vank complex includes the monastery, the main church and its courtyard, the bell tower, the library, the museum, the clock tower, the rooms for the bishop’s residence, as well as the meeting halls and the printing house all of which cover an area of 8731 square meters. Of this area, 3857 square meters belong to the buildings and the rest belong to the green space and Vank garden.
Most of the ancient Armenian churches are built of stone, but Vank Cathedral is built of raw clay. The outer wall of the church is covered with bricks, and in some places there are tiles painted with winged angels. The walls of the church are 11.75 meters high from the courtyard to the roof of the second floor. The inner wall is covered with plaster and there are eye-catching paintings on it.
This building has two entrances. The main door is a large wooden door and is dedicated to people crossing. At the entrance of this door, there is an image that shows the view inside the monastery. This image is adorned with azure and gray tiles and above it is written the phrase in Armenian:
Deir saves everyone, a place for monks
After crossing the entrance, you enter a corridor on either side of which there are two rooms that were previously used to handle Armenian affairs, but now, one is used as a small shop and the other as a guard room. The corridor leads you to the entrance stairs and little by little the sights of this complex reveal themselves:
The first building that catches your eye as you enter the vank Cathedral and to the right of the entrance staircase is the bell tower which is built on three floors above the entrance to the monastery. The presence of a large clock weighing 300 kg on the second floor of the tower has made it known as the clock tower.
On the four sides of the tower, four circular clock screens are installed each of which is 104 cm in diameter, and the sound of the clock can be heard from afar.
This tower and clock was built by Mardiros Hovnatanyan in 1931, equal to 1310 SH. To the right side of the entrance, a 40 by 53 cm inscription of marble is installed and the following text can be seen on it:
The tower and its clock were built and donated by Mardiros Gorge Hovnatanyan in 1931 in memory of his late brother who died in 1924.
Initially, the church did not have a bell tower, and its first tower was built 38 years after the main building of Deir, and was paid for by an Armenian merchant named Hovanjan Jamalian.
Below the tower, there are two tombs, one of which belongs to an Armenian soldier and the other to one of the Armenian leaders. In the right side of the bell tower is a large blue inscription surrounded by cross stones. These stones are called Khach-qar in Armenian and were transferred to this place from the ruined churches of Julfa and installed on this wall.
On the roof of the church, at the top of the entrance and between the western wall and the edge of the small dome of the church, there is a square-like area in which a small bell tower is built as the second bell tower of the church. Each side of this square is 2.75 meters long and a brick column can be seen at the intersection of both sides. Each of these columns is 3 meters high and at a height of 2.5 meters, both columns are connected to each other by a wooden beam. Both columns are connected from the top with a truncated arch and the boundaries between the arches and columns are covered with bricks.
The domes of Vank Cathedral
Vank Cathedral has two domes, which are as follows:
- a small dome on the public residence and
- a large dome in front of the church altar.
Upon entering the church, you will notice two square columns that are 25.6 meters away from its western wall, and each of their sides is two meters. In the western part of the church, using some of these columns and the bases of the side walls, they have built four high arches each of which reaches a height of 10/25 meters, and a small, low dome of the church is located on them.
The large circular dome looks like the dome of a mosque and is inspired by them. The exterior of the dome is decorated with baked bricks and the interior which is azure is decorated with religious images and decorations of flamboyant and gilding. Around this dome, there are eight windows in the distance between which there are images of the creation of Adam and Eve, eating the forbidden fruit, the death of Abel, and so on.
The main chapel of Vank Cathedral has a parallelogram plan and consists of two rectangular parts, the first of which is the nave of the building and the second part, which is under the dome, is used as a place for religious ceremonies and hymns. In the plinths of the walls of the prayer hall, multi-colored brick tiles are used, and in the upper parts, there are paintings from the holy books which also cover the entire surface of the dome.
Around the dome, the story of creation of Adam and Eve is painted by Armenian painters, and on the very beautiful altar of the church, images such as the image of Christ can be seen. There are no decorations, including tiles, on the exterior of the church dome, and its surface is covered only with plain brick.
Paintings of Vank Cathedral
What amazes Vank Cathedral viewers is that when you stay in the church space, they are surrounded by a multitude of colors and patterns, because all the walls, arches, dome collars, inside the dome and all corners of the church are decorated with oil paintings.
Most of these paintings depict themes from the Holy Bible. In a part of the church, images from the birth to the ascension of Jesus Christ can be seen on them, and on some of the walls, the Day of Judgment, the judgment in that day, and heaven and hell are engraved.
At the church choir, there are four images with flamboyant around them torturing the saints. The images of the place of the hymns belong to Jesus Christ, which begins in the chamber of special objects with images of the angel preaching to the Virgin Mary and goes around the whole church. The middle images include the birth of Jesus Christ, the prostration of the three kings to Jesus, the test of Christ by the devil, the last supper of Jesus, the crucifixion and burial of Jesus, the ascension of Jesus, and so on.
On the north wall inside the church, images of the resurrection can be seen, above which is the paradise, the entrance of the saved, and at the bottom of the terrible hell with flames of fire, multi-headed dragons and demons, angels who hang sinners from above is painted.
All the decorations, and paintings of the church were paid by a person named Khajeh Avdik Stepanos, and Armenian masters, including Hovhannes Merkoz, the priest Stepanos and Master Minas, worked on them.
Vank Cathedral is a unique example among Armenian churches in terms of gilding, and according to the inscription on the north wall inside the church, Khajeh Avdik played an important role in decorating and painting the walls. The text of the inscription has the following meaning:
On February 5, 1669, Khajeh Ovdik, who left the paintings of the church in the memory of himself and his family, passed away and joined Christ.
Vank Cathedral Museum
The churches built in Isfahan are also included a collection of different buildings created for scientific and cultural applications. That is why about a hundred years ago, a man named Thaddeus Hunanian made an effort to make one room on the north side of the courtyard of Vank Cathedral and books, manuscripts and historical objects should be kept in them.
This was the beginning of the creation of the Wank Museum, though not in its present form. After the ups and downs, this museum became in its current form and in it you can see books and manuscripts, Armenian anthropological objects, religious objects, oil paintings and …
In 1977, two statues made in Italy, by the Armenian artist Zaven Ayvazian, were donated to the museum by two philanthropists and installed at the entrance, representing two important people: Masrop Mashtots, inventor of the Armenian alphabet, and Khachatur Kesaratsi, founder of the printing press of Vank Cathedral in the 17th century.
Today, Vank Cathedral Museum, with a history of more than 100 years, is one of the pioneers of museums and museum management in Iran, and due to its unique objects and space, has always been of interest to domestic and foreign tourists. Over the past decades, many visitors have visited the Vank Cathedral Museum as one of the most prestigious and famous cultural institutions in Isfahan and have enjoyed being in such a different atmosphere.
Printing House | A Destroyed building
Over time, Vank Cathedral expanded and found new functionalities including the creation of a printing press. Khachatur Kasaratsi was a person who was appointed as the great caliph of the Armenians of Julfa of Isfahan in 1620 AD and during his trip to Europe in 1630 AD, he became acquainted with the publication of books. After returning from this trip, he tried to think of measures and made a printing house for julfa.
It was in 1638 that the Zabur of David(Dawud) were published as the first book in the Vank Printing House, and it took a year and five months to print it. The second book was called Heratz Warg, published in 1641, and included a biography of the Armenian clergy, the Dark Ones, and a textbook. The third book published in this printing house was called Khorhar Taddar, which was published in 1641, and in 1642, the fourth book was published under the name of Jamagirk Adeni.
In 1844, Manug Hordanian who lived on the island of Java in Indonesia, bought a printing press with all its accessories and sent it to his hometown, Julfa, Isfahan. The printing press, which is open to the public today, remained unused for several years until a printing press was established in 1872 by the great caliph, Gregor Hohansian, and the first book of this printing house was published in the same year.
From 1770 to 1790, opposition to the printing press reached its peak and was set on fire. All that remained were a number of letters and molds that are now housed in the Vank Cathedral Museum.
During the forced migration, the Armenians gave up everything to come to Iran, but they could not pass through the books they had in their homes, and they endured many hardships and difficulties and brought many books with them to Iran and Julfa neighborhood. Books are the only wealth of Armenians who never lose their value.
The existence of these valuable books led to the establishment of a library in Vank Cathedral in 1884 by Caliph Hovhannes Sourenyan. The library is located in the northern part of the Holy Monastery of Amenapergich, in front of the Church of St. Joseph the Archangel, next to the museum building. The library building contains more than thirty thousand books in Armenian, English, Persian, etc. The Vank Library is known as one of the most important centers of Armenian studies, despite the historical documents in the archive section some of which are more than four hundred years old.
Armenians can use this library at any time, but providing services to non-Armenian clients is possible only by presenting a letter of introduction, on the spot and during office hours.
Vank Cathedral Architecture | A new style
All the churches in Isfahan were built by Armenian architects, but the remarkable thing about them is that there are no similarities between them and the churches of Armenia or even the churches of East and West Azerbaijan, such as Qarah-e-Kelisa, Haftavan, Zorzur and St. Stephen. This stems from the social conditions prevailing in the seventeenth century, and the cause must be sought in the conditions of that time.
As we have said, Shah Abbas gave the Armenians concessions such as building a church to encourage them to stay in Iran. However, in order to prevent the provocation of the religious feelings of the people of Isfahan and the emergence of religious differences between Muslims and Armenians, he made the construction of the church conditional on its construction not being similar to other Armenian churches. Armenian artists also found a way to build their religious buildings in the style of Iranian architects, with the appearance of mosques, and using the artistic heritage of their land and being influenced by Iranian art, they built many spectacular works, including churches and luxurious mansions. Its example can not be found anywhere in the world.
They followed the religious principles and plans of the Armenian churches to build all the churches, but in terms of appearance and exterior view, they chose a different method from the Armenian architectural style and applied the principles of Iranian architecture. It was this combination that led to the creation of very different buildings in the Julfa neighborhood. For example, the churches of St. Stephen in Julfa, Isfahan, and St. Magdrich in the region of Abragonis in Armenia have a different plan, but there is a completely different architectural style. Armenian architects in Isfahan cleverly and artistically combined the Armenian and Iranian architectural styles to create a completely new style in architecture and were able to create a different style. Their innovative style was used until the early Qajar period and the church of St. Thaddeus and St. Barthoghimews in Tehran is an example of this style.
Of course, other conditions such as weather and type of materials have also affected the design of Isfahan church buildings and have given them a different face. These new construction methods have caused the churches of Isfahan, especially Vank Church, to have significant differences with other churches.
History of Vank Cathedral
During the Ottoman war of 1603_1605 , Shah Abbas I relocated the entire population of Nakhchivan including Muslim, Jewish and Armenian to Iran to make sure they wouldn’t be stuttered by Ottoman empire. The Armenians settled in Isfahan, The capital of Safavid Dynasty. They populated the New Jolfa district which was named after their original homeland . The first monastery was built in 1606 including a little church which was expanded later and turned into Vank cathedral . Then after 50 years It was rebuilt and major design changes were made. Vank Cathedral was completed in 1702 .
A Summary of Vank Cathedral
Vank cathedral is located in New Jolfa , Isfahan . It is also known as “All savior’s cathedral”. The word “Vank” means monastery in English and it is the symbol of the religion freedom throughout Iran’s history. The cathedral was established in 1606 during the Ottoman war. However, It was rebuilt in 1655 because of the growing population of Christianity in Iran. The architecture of Vank cathedral is a mixture of Safavid style with high arches and Islamic style dome. It also has influenced the architecture of many other churches in Iran.
Visiting Vank Cathedral is a wonderful experience for everyone especially those who are interested in history of Christianity in Iran or generally history and religion . This is only one of the many amazing places you should visit while traveling to Iran. For more information please contact us. We also have free Isfahan walking tour which includes visiting this monument accompanied by an expert tour guide with a vast knowledge of the place. In this tour you will also visit Hasht Behesht palace, Neghsh-e Jahan square, and Monar jonban.