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  • 12/25/2005

The Churches in Iran

          Freedom of conscience and religion has a deep historical root in Iran and is in fact intertwined with the Iranian culture.

   Religious minorities lived freely and no restriction were imposed on them on the part of the religious majority before and after Islam became the dominant religion in this land.

   Since the Islamic Revolution of 1979, the religious minorities have enjoted more religious freedom.

   According to historians, divine religions have always been paid thier due respect in this land. Christians too have been living freely in Iran since the preIslamic era. The history of Iranian Christians bears testimony to this fact. There are some famous, ancient churches in Iran such as the Church of Holy Mary in Orumieh, the Church of Vank in Isfahan and the Church of St. Tadeus in Maku. Being the oldest church in Iran, the Church of Holy Mary is also considered as one of the odlest churches in the world.

   It is said that the Church of Holy Mary is the second most famous church in the world after the Church of Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus, i.e. palestine.

   Among other famous churches in Iran is the Church of Vank in Jolfa, Isfahan.

The church reflects some of the most attractive features of Iranian architecture. The drawings at the church are demonstrative of the taste of skillful Iranian artists. one can observe the passage of time on the walls of the Church of Vank. The wells of the Church museum with its magnificent building stands as a token of brilliant Iranian architecture in the Safavid era.

   Dating back to a period between the 6th and 9th century A.D., the  Church of Holy Tadeus is situated in the province of Western Azarbaijan.

   The church  is reportedly built by St. Tadeus, an apostle of Jesus. A large number of Christians go on a pilgrimage to the church every year. We have prepared a brief report about the famous churches in the provinces of Western Azarbaijan and Isfahan.

   We start with Orumieh, the capital of Western Azarbaijan, in northwestern Iran adjacent to the Lake Orumieh which is not so far from the Turkish border.Orumieh has, Throughout history, served as the cradle of Iranian Islamic civilization and the land of diverse archaeological and historic landmarks.

The Church of Holy Mary

          The Church of Holy Mary in Orumieh is considered one of the most ancient churches in the world. The church is said to have been erected in this city shortly after the departure of Jesus. In the Assyrian language the Church is called "Mart Maryam" or "Holy Virgin.

   Some historians consider the church as the second oldest church after the Church of Bethlehem in Palestine. The square-shaped church building is highly firm and simple. The thick bases of the church are made of stone and mortar. The interior of the church includes a worship hall, an altar, some rooms and vestibules.

 As in the past, various aromatic and wild plants ornament the interior of the church.

   No icons or drawing of saints can be seen in the church, for members of the Eastern Church do not believe in their use.

   A Chinese princess who visited the church in 642 A.D.contributed to its reconstruction. Her name was then engraved on a stone installed on the church wall. The famous Italian traveller, Marco Polo, is another visitor to the Church of Holy Mary who has described the church in his itinerary.

   in 1903, the prominent American Orientalist, professor Abraham Jackson, visited and photographed the church.

   Based on some accounts, the church was in the past surrounded by a beautiful garden and the fragrance of flowers and blossoms permeated the air.

   The ceremony in which Marpolos was appointed as the leader of the Eastern Church was held at this very church in the presence of a large number of Assyrian senior theologians and scholars on April 15, 1918.

   Well-known individuals have been buried in the side vestiblues of the church like Maryuhana, the former Archbishop of the Gavilan district, who passed away in 1874.

The Church of Vank in Isfahan

        Located in Jolfa area, Isfahan, Vank is the second most famous church in Iran. Isfahan was once the capital of the Safavid dynasty 400 years ago. The city accomodates the Imam Khomeini Square (formerly known as Naghsh-e-Jahan Square ) with a collection of the most elegant historic buildings in the world. The Imam khomeini square and its surrounding premises, unrivalled in terms of architecture, are considered as the world's important cultural heritage. The Church of Vank, howeverer, enjoys a special position among the other historical buildings in Isfahan in light of its artis and architectural value. The Zayandehrood river, in the middle of the city seperates the historical premises in Nagsh-e- Jahan Square from the Jolfa district where the Church of Vank is located.

   The historical Si- o- se- pol Bridge and some other old bridges join the two parts of the city together. There are a number of old churches in the Jolfa disstrict; but the Church of Vank is the most famous of them.

   The church has been surrounded by old trees and it's yard is paved with bricks. It is not exactly known when the church was erected. Evidence however indicates that it is one of the oldest churches in Isfahan. The church was rebuilt in 1605. Some historians hold that there once stood an Anahita Temple at the very site on which the Church of Vank now stands. Christians named the church "Amena Pergij" which means "savior."

   Shah Abbas-e-Safavi rebuilt the church with donations provided by the Armenians in Jolfa. It is said the church stones have been carried to Isfahan from another church in Yerevan. One of the inscriptions in the church has entioned the church founder to be "Khajeh Avedick". Numerous inscriptions are found in the Church of Vank. These inscriptions were made and installed at the behest of great men in different historical periods.

   The painting depicting the burial ceremony of Jesus is worth a visit. The  mcmeremony has been beautifully depicted by Iraninan painters.

   The church museum is also worth visiting. The museum holds numerous historical documents and objects. Most objects kept at the museum have been given to the church as gifts by the Christian and Armenian merchants who travelled to Europe.

   Manuscripts in Armenian version as well as orders and letters of the Safavid kings are being kept in the museum. There is also a printing house at the Church of Vank. The printing house has been set up by " khachatour Gesatatski", who was a monk and a church leader. There is also a library adjacent to the church.

The Church of St Tadeus

          Among the other churches worth visiting in Iran is the Church of St. Tadeus of Vank in kara- Zia- ed- din, in Western Azarbaijan, between Maku and the Bazargan frontier. Historians believe the church was built some time between the 6th to 9th century A.D.

   The church sustained substantial damages due to an earthquake in 1319 A.D..Other historians say that the Church of St. Tadeus has been set up by one of the apostle of Jesus. According to some accounts, in the year 40 A.D. Tadeus travelled to the area to propagate Christianity. He managed to convert the daughter of the then king to Christianity. Tadeus and Sandokht, the king's daughter, were then both martyred by the king.

   The tomb of Sandokht is located at the same church. Every year, hundreds of Christian pilgrims head for kara-Zia-ed-din to visit the church and tombs of Tasus and Sandokht.

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