The Armenian monastic ensemble of Iran consists of three Armenian churches, the monastery of St. Stepanos, the monastery of Saint Thaddeus and the chapel of Dzordzor. This set is located in northwestern Iran but divided by two provinces. The monastery of Saint Thaddeus and the chapel of Dzordzor are located in the province of western Azerbaijan and the monastery of Saint Stepanos in the province of eastern Azerbaijan. In July 2008, the three were jointly registered as a World Heritage Site by UNECO.
The monastery of Saint Thaddeus, also known as the black church (Qarekelisa as local name) due to the implementation of black stones in the structure of the monastery, is the oldest church in the world. The name comes from a saint also known as St. Jude whose mission was to evangelize Persia where he eventually died and was buried where the monastery is now in the year 68 B.C. . The current church has been repaired and renewed repeatedly due to the damage caused by various events such as the invasion of Genghis Khan and earthquakes during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. The last renovation was carried out in 1961. The second church located on the west side of Saint Thaddeus was built in 1810 and unlike Saint Thaddeus with white stones. Both churches are a wonder easily recognized from afar by cone-shaped domes.
The monastery of Saint Thaddeus or QareKelisa is very famous among Catholic tourists, Armenians and lovers of travel and history. Despite being located far from the classic route, which is very popular with tourists, it receives many visits a year, especially during the last weekend of July when Armenian, Assyrian and Catholic pilgrims approach the monastery of Saint Thaddeus for a ritual celebration of the area.
Dzordzor chapel, also known as the Chapel of the Holy Mary or "Kelisaye zor zor" in the local language, is currently an abandoned chapel. This chapel that is the smallest of the monastics is located near the Barun village, in the valley of the Maku river bank. According to historians, the chapel of Dzordzor was originally a larger monastery which was built in the fourteenth century by archbishop to be a religious and cultural educational place. The chapel of Dzordzor is a simple structure, built with stones of different sizes and few decorations around the windows. Due to the possibility of the flooding of the chapel after the structuring of a dam on the Zangmar river in 1988, the Dzordzor chapel moved 600 meters from the current location. The move was approved after the agreement between the Armenian Apostolic Church and UNESCO.
The monastery of Saint Stepanos is located in the vicinity of the Aras river right on the border between Armenia and Iran, in a valley surrounded by mountains. Historically, the monastery of St. Stepanos is the second most important Armenian in Iran. Although some historians believe that the church during the nineteenth century, but according to the writing of a plaque on the outside of the church, the monastery of St. Stepanos was originally built in the first century by St. Bartholomew. Currently the structure of the monastery is in a good state due to several renovations made during the era of the Safavid and Qajar dynasties after having suffered damage by earthquakes. The fortress that surrounds the monastery of Saint Stepanos has seven towers and the domes of the cylindrical tower and the bell tower have been made cone-shaped. Unlike the Dzordzor chapel, which is based on a fairly simple design, the monastery has fabulous designs inside and outside and the design is based on Armenian architecture. The paintings cover the interior walls and you can even find a painting of the virgin Mary along with the baby Jesus in her arms.
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