– Location: Esfahan, Iran
– Age: Safavid Era
– Year of Construction: 1606
– Builder: Armenians of Isfahan , led by the Reverend Philipus
– Visiting hours: Sun – Sat (9:00 AM – 12:30 PM, 3:00 PM – 6:00 PM)
– Address: Vank Cathedral alley, Eastern Nazar street, Hakim Nezami intersection, Isfahan, Iran
Vank Cathedral also known as, The Holy Savior Cathedral is the largest and most visited cathedral in Isfahan’s Julfa. The name “Vank” means “monastery” in Armenian language.
Following the Ottoman war of 1603-1605, on returning to Iran, Shah Abbas I forced the Armenians living in the towns and villages in his way and destroyed all their homes, farms, livestock, and other belongings and set fire to the pursuit of the Ottoman troops. He and his troops accompanied the Armenians to the Jolfa area of Isfahan. The Armenian immigrants settled in Isfahan, the capital of the Safavid Dynasty, and populated the city’s New Jolfa district, which was named after their original homeland in today’s Azerbaijan Republic. Upon entering Iran, Armenians in the Jolfa district of Isfahan, undertook the cultural, social, economic, and religious measures necessary to create a humane society, including the creation of religious sites. They founded about 13 monasteries; The first monastery in Jolfa was built in 1606 and included a little cathedral called Amna Perkich, which means ‘All Healing.’ The little cathedral was later expanded and turned into the magnificently designed Vank Cathedral, which was built 50 years later under the supervision of Archbishop David.
The scheme of Vank cathedral is rectangular and its direction is eastern-western. The cathedral is a professional combination of two architectural styles: its interior presents a sample of Armenian architecture and its exterior facade has been designed by use of Iranian architecture.
The materials used in the building of Vank cathedral were brick and adobe and all the interior angles of cathedral is plastered and decorated by oil paint and gold in Iranian style and some images from Jesus life influenced by Italian painting.
Ancient Armenian cathedral es have cone-shaped domes, but the dome of Vank Cathedral has been built like the domes of Iranian mosques in Safavid era. However, its semi-octagonal apse and raised chancel makes it western-looking. The variety of building styles, used for the cathedral and its surroundings, reflects the history of the district filled with European travelers, missionaries, and mercenaries. The exterior of the cathedral is built of simple yellow brick and gives the mistaken impression of what should be inside the cathedral . Interior of Vank Cathedral is a true masterpiece of art, representing paintings, carvings, and tilings. The paintings include Bible stories on the dome, Persian floral ornaments on the ceilings and Armenian national motifs on the walls. There are also scenes of the life of Armenian martyrs being tortured by Ottomans. Paintings are framed with golden and blue tiles, providing a warm and rich atmosphere inside the cathedral . All the decorations, paintings and illumination of the cathedral have been funded by a person named “Audicus Stepanus”. The painters of these paintings were all Armenian masters.
Vank Cathedral also has a library and museum, which includes an Armenian book that was the first book ever printed in Iran, as well as edicts by Shah Abbas I and other Kings forbidding interference with or persecution of the Armenians.
Another part of the church is the museum of this religious and sacred place, which dates back to a hundred years ago and was built in 1605 by Tatavus Hunanian (author of the book Julfa History of Isfahan). He considered chambers on the north side of the churchyard for the preservation of Armenian books and manuscripts and historical objects. The objects added to the museum over time have an enormous variety and are so unique that they can be lectured for hours at a time. Recenty, In 2019, a new section was added to the main museum named as the Armenian Anthropological Museum.
Hope to enjoy this outstanding church on your trip to Iran…