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Holy Savior Cathedral, Isfahan, Iran

Armenian community of Iran has existed for centuries. One of the most important centers of Armenian culture on the territory of Islamic Republic is located in Isfahan – near the bank of the river Zayanderood. There are more than 10 churches in the Armenian district of Isfahan - New Julfa. The most important among them is the Holy Savior Cathedral (Սուրբ Ամենափրկիչ), better known as Vank Cathedral (in Armenian the word "Vank" means monastery).

Cathedral is a part of the monastery complex, built during the reign of Shah Abbas the Great, who resettled numerous Armenians from Julfa to Isfahan during the years 1603-1606. The resettled Armenians began to build a church on the site of contemporary Vank cathedral already in 1608. After half a century, the church was enlarged, and the adjacent monastery buildings were built, thanks to the generosity of Khoja Avetik Stepanyan.

The monastery complex includes the Holy Savior Cathedral, monastic cells, a beautiful rectangular bell tower, a library, and a very famous museum, founded in 1930-s. The museum contains one of the smallest copies of the Gospel (weighs only 7 grams) in the world. Near the cathedral are buried not only the local Armenian monks, but also European diplomats, who died in Isfahan.

The Cathedral building from outside is quite modest. It is a two-tier building with a round dome, built in a style of Iranian mosques. The cathedral, like most of the Iranian mosques has decorative arches on both tiers of the building. Only thanks to the sharp ended roof of the bell-tower with a cross on the top, and the absence of the azure tiling on the exterior walls (typical for mosques), the cathedral can be distinguished from a mosque.

However, the interior of Vank cathedral absolutely has no similarity with a mosque. The internal space is divided into two almost equal parts. Richly decorated interior is particularly impressing with the murals. The murals give a unique brightness and color. They cover almost every inch of the walls and ceiling. The murals are painted with gilding. Inside the cathedral, besides the golden color, also dominates maroon, typical for the Armenian churches and medieval miniature. According to the legend, the cathedral walls were painted by the famous scientist and artist Hovhannès Mrk'uz / Djoughayetsi (1642-1716). The murals represent different scenes from Old and New Testaments.

Vank Monastery complex has cultural significance not only for the Armenian community of Iran, but also both for Armenia and Iran. More than for four centuries this monastery not only served as the center of the Armenian community of Isfahan, but also gave several Catholicoses (the religious leader of the Armenian Apostolic Church) to Armenia itself. Here, for the first time the Gospel was translated into Farsi. In 1638, for the first time in Iran, a printing house was founded, and the first printed book (in Armenian) was published on the territory of the whole Middle East.

By Anna Pambukhchyan,


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