Isfahan is famous as “Nesf-e Jahan” (means half of the world) because of the many glorious attractions in it; but the city is also a city of history and culture. All over the city is full of magnificent historical monuments; and there is no doubt that there will be no match for them! From the beautiful Si-o-Se Pol to the Naghsh-e Jahan square and it’s mosques, the Grand Mosque and etc… all are unique in their kind. Another magnificent historical monument of this beautiful city is Vank Church, which according to many is one of the most cozy and characteristic places of interest in Isfahan. We can also say that Vank cathedral, is a small historical city in the heart of another historical city, greatness as half of the world.
Construction of Vank church in the Jolfa region of Isfahan city dates back to the reign of Shah Abbas II. The church is one of the first Armenian churches in Iran and dates back to 1605. It is interesting to know that it was a small building in the southwest at the time of it’s establishment, known as the church of Jacob. But as we mentioned before some buildings added to it; this action happened in 1655, and completed in 1664.
This church is on the list of Iran’s national heritage sites since January 6, 1961 and is one of the 13 remaining churches in the Jolfa neighborhood of Isfahan since the 17th century. The name of the church is derived from the name of Surp Amena Perkich Vank Jogha Church in Nakhchivan; and most people around the world know it by the name Surp Amena. Vank Cathedral has another name too; people also call it the Church of the Holy Savior. But among Iranians and especially non-Christians, the church is famous as “Vank” (means monastery in Armenian).
Today, the church still has a strong position among the Armenians of Isfahan and is famous all over the world. And it is nice to know that it is also the largest and most famous church in Iran. In addition to maintaining it’s religious status among the people of Isfahan, especially the Armenians, Vank also became an administrative place and a center of social events. During the following years, Armenians established the first printing house with a printing press in Iran and the Middle East in the courtyard of this church.
The Jolfa neighborhood of Isfahan, where the Vank Church is located, has long been home to Armenian immigrants in Iran. During the Safavid period, Shah Abbas I ordered the retreat of the Iranians in the war with the Ottomans. On the way back, the Iranian army was passing through Armenia. By order of Shah Abbas, they destroyed large sections of the route to prevent the Ottomans from advancing. In the meantime, the Armenian people were in danger of being massacred. For this reason, Shah Abbas decided to bring them to Iran and settle them. At the end of this long migration, Shah Abbas and his troops arrived in Isfahan with the Armenian people; and Shah Abbas granted lands to them in the Jolfa region.
The old form of Jolfa neighborhood was very different from it’s current form. Over time, the Armenians decided to build in the region; so they built various facilities, including a religious building, to carry out their religious relations. After a while Armenians lived in Isfahan, they established 24 churches by the end of the 17th century in Jolfa; but unfortunately, today, only 13 churches remained.
This act of construction by Armenians in the Jolfa region of Isfahan caused the formation of new architecture in this neighborhood and among the various buildings, Vank Church is the most prominent building. Today, this original area in the city of Isfahan is famous as the “New Jolfa neighborhood“; and tourists visit the Vank Cathedral as one of the most prominent historical monuments in the city.
As we mentioned before, Vank cathedral was a small church at the beginning, and after 50 years of using it, Armenians began to build additional parts form 1655 – 1664. And such as adding buildings to the church in another period, they started the process of expanding the churchyard and building more new buildings on the site in 1905.
The Vank Church Museum also opened in 1905; and was both a museum and a library until 1930. Over time, they completed various sections of the Church. During completing the church building various sections such as the prayer hall, the church entrance tower, and the office buildings were created.
At the head of the west entrance of Vank Cathedral there is an inscription . The material of the inscription is azure tiles and you can see the following text engraved with gold on it:
The church of Vank Amena Pergich began in 1655 during the reign of King Abbas II and the enthronement of “Philip” and the leadership of Caliph “David” with the help of the good people of Jolfa and ended in 1664. The reward for the worship performed in this church is for those who are alive or in the past.
Vank Cathedral has an area of about 8700 square meters, of which about 4000 square meters are buildings and the rest are the green space of the complex. In the architecture of most churches, they used stone to build the building, but in Vank Church, brick replaced stone; and you can see the exterior completely covered in bricks. Among the brick texture of the walls, you can see tiles with the image of winged angels. The main entrance of the visitors is a big wooden door, which enhances the glory of the church building. The entrance street of the Church and it’s inner courtyard is paved; and above the entrance of the church there is a painting of the interior of the monastery, decorated with azure and gray tiles.
At the entrance to Vank Church, the church bell tower stands out. The tower has three floors and on the second floor there is a large clock that weighs 300 kg. And because of this, they also call the bell tower the clock tower.
There are four steel plates placed with other clocks on the other three sides of the pillar. The clocks of the tower sound at the same time as the bells ring, and their sound echoes in the Jolfa region. At the entrance of the tower, you can see a marble inscription installed on which there is the following text:
The tower and it’s clock were built and donated by Mardiros Gorg Hordanian in 1931 in memory of his late brother who died in 1924.
The bell tower, was built 38 years after the main church building by Hovanjan Jamalian. Below the bell tower there are two tombs belonging to an Armenian soldier and an Armenian leader. To the right of the bell tower there are blue inscriptions and cross stones cover it. These stones are called “Khach Klim” in Armenian and have been brought to Vank Church from other Jolfa churches.
Another architectural feature of the Vank Church is it’s domes. Vank Cathedral has two small and large domes. The small dome is above the hall at the gathering place and the large dome above the altar of the church. After entering the church in the western part, you can see square pillars with high arches. And the domes of the church are built on the same pillars and arches.
The architectural style of the Grand Dome (the big dome) is quite similar to the architecture of mosque domes. According to the year of construction of this building in the Safavid period, in the construction of this dome, they’ve modeled the architectural examples of mosques at that time. And this is the reason of the similarity between Vank church’s dome with Iranian mosque’s dome, while the dome of traditional churches is conical.
The material of the outer shell of the dome is bricks; and the inner shell is painted in azure. Around this large circular dome, you can see eight windows installed. And between these windows, inside the dome, you can see paintings and drawings. The paintings on the dome of Vank Cathedral are one of it’s most beautiful attractions and it is very enjoyable for tourists to watch them. On the azure shell of the big Dome are images of the creation of Adam and Eve, the story of Adam eating the forbidden fruit, and the story of Abel and Cain.
On the roof of Vank Church, right on the entrance to the western wall and the small dome of the church, there is a square space inside which the second bell tower of the church is located. This square space has an area of about 8 square meters and approximately each side is about 2.75 meters long. At the intersection of both sides, there is a brick pillar with a height of 3 meters. The pillars are connected at a height of 2.5 meters by a wooden beam to be stronger. In addition, each pillar has a truncated arch above it; and the boundary of it is covered with brick.
The use of Vank church in history has not been just worship and religious issues. The preservation and transmission of Armenian culture to future generations has been one of the most important duties of this place.
The museum of Vank cathedral is a century old and is on the north side of the church. The Vank Church Museum holds valuable artifacts such as historical paintings, exquisite manuscripts and valuable antiquities. Before establishing the museum, they kept these valuables in the church’s abandoned warehouse!
The famous hair strand of Vank Church, is one of the most famous works of the museum of this church. This hair belongs to an 18-year-old girl and the reason it is famous is that an artist engraved a a phrase on it! Vahram Hakopian donated his unique work to the church a year later, in 1975. An 18-year-old girl’s hair which contains a passage from the Torah and reads:
To know wisdom and justice and to understand the words of instinct
The above sentence is extremely fine and of course you are not able to see and read it with naked eye. So you will need a microscope to see it. And fortunately there is microscope available in the church! So don’t forget to pay attention to this hair strand when you visited Vank cathedral.
One of the most beautiful architectural sections in Vank Cathedral is the paintings inside the main building. You can see magnificent paintings on all the interior walls Vank cathedral. The interior architecture of the Church is unique in terms of gilding, illumination and murals. And not only in Iran, but also in the world, the church is famous for it’s architecture.
The paintings of Vank Cathedral divide into two categories. The first group consists of paintings on canvas, cloth and boards; and they are hung in the sanctuary and other places. And the second group consists of murals and painted pieces of stone. One of the paintings of Vank Cathedral depicts the seven floors of sky, heaven and hell, which is one of the most beautiful paintings of this church.
One of the most interesting parts of Vank Church are the statues. They are half-length statues of Armenian celebrities. To the right of Vank museum there is a statue of Mesrop Mashtots, the inventor of the Armenian alphabet, and to the left is a statue of Khachatur Kasaratsi, the Armenian archbishop. Other famous statues in Vank Cathedral include statues of famous Armenian poets of the 20th century, installed on both sides of the library entrance. One of them belongs to the famous Armenian poet Barvir Swag. There are also many tombs of Armenian dignitaries on the site of Vank Church.
What do you think of this great monument of Isfahan And which part of the Vank church attracted you the most? Let us know by commenting your opinion! And thank you for reading the article.