Vank Cathedral in Isfahan
Vank Cathedral is also known as a Holy Savior Cathedral or the Saintly sisters, is the most visited Cathedral in Isfahan located in New Jolfa. Vank in Armenian language translates to convent or monastery.
The Cathedral established in 1606, dedicated to thousands of Armenian fleeing from the Ottoman massacre to Iran in the war of 1603-1605, during Shah Abbas I who settled them in Iranian Provinces south of Aras River.
During 14th and 18th century, Nakhchivans were suffered from Iranian and Ottoman Empire’s war. In 1604, when Shah Abass I faced the risk of onslaught of Ottoman Empire to Nakhchivan lands, decided to move the Muslim, Jewish and Armenian population of those lands to Iran by force. Armenian population was settled in Isfahan Province, the capital province of Safavid Dynasty.
The first church that was built by Armenian population in Jolfa was a little church in 1606 called Amna Perkich meaning “All Healing,” although it had been expanded 50 years later and magnificently designed under the supervision of Archbishop David and its name turned into “Vank Cathedral.” This Cathedral is among the most gorgeous ones in Iran that was completed in 1664 including a dazzling bell-tower building in 1702.
The interior is magnificently designed with fine frescos, gilded carvings, and wainscot of rich tile work while the story of Bible about world and man’s expulsion from Eden had been depicting by delicately blue and golden painted, and the flora painting in ceiling showing in motif of Persian Miniature. Furthermore, Pendentives through the church were painted with a distinctly Armenian motif of cherub’s head surrounded by folded wings, and can be seen two different sections of murals of interior walls: the top section depicts events from the life of Jesus while the bottom section illustrates torture inflicted on Armenian martyrs by the Ottoman Empire.
Every year on April 23 Armenians get together at the corner of the Cathedral, which is a raised area to light candle for the honor of their martyrs in event of Armenian Genocide in 1915, Turkey.
Courtyards, rooms and halls have been built at the corner of the Cathedral to accommodate guests, the Isfahan Archbishop and his retinue, and the other Armenian religious authorities in Iran. The Cathedral’s courtyard includes a large freestanding belfry over the graves of both Orthodox and Protestant Christians. Across the courtyard, there is the house of library and museum, while outside of building can be seen several carved stones illustrating scenes from the Bible.
The Vank museum is an unique archive of Safavid costumes, European paintings brought back by Armenian merchants, embroideries, tapestries, extensive collection of photographs, maps, Turkish documents related to the 1915 massacre of Armenian by Ottoman Empire and other valuable items from the Iranian-Armenian trade heritage. Furthermore, Vestments, monstrances, chalices and other sacramental objects have also been displayed at the museum.
The library contains more than 700 manuscripts hard-to-find sources on Armenian and medieval European languages and arts, the priceless collection of different objects gathered from across the Armenian lands, various items belongs to the history of the Cathedral and Armenian Community in Isfahan including the 1606 edict of Shah Abbas I establishing New Jolfa, as well as exquisite seven-gram Bible which is the world’s smallest written text in seven languages.
After the death of Shah Abbas I, his successor Shah Abbas II also paid enough attention to Armenian & New Jolfa located on the banks of the Zayandeh River and still houses a large part of Iranian-Armenian community. Numbers of Armenian refugees and immigrants had been grown until 1933 because they had to flock to Iran from the Soviet Union. Today, Iranian-Armenians have 2 seats in Majlis, and their the numbers are around 120,000-150,000 that half of which live in Tehran.