If you take a picture in saint Stepanos monastery it is improbable for someone to guess that you took the picture in Iran. When you see the first parts of the monastery you will be amazed at the majesty, glory and beauty of the place and saint Stepanos monastery will turn into one of the most miraculous places you have ever seen.
Who Is Saint Stepanos?
Saint Stepanos or Stephan was one of the twelve apostles of Jesus Christ. He who was among the very first missionaries of Christianity at December 26, 36 (Anno Domini) was stoned to death by Jews in Jerusalem for the accusation of making remarks against the Jewish tradition. He is the first martyr of Christianity. Of course, there are many monasteries and churches in the world that are named after him.
About the Saint Stepanos Monastery
- Saint Stepanos monastery is the second most important monastery/church of Armenians in Iran after the Monastery of Saint Thaddeus (or Kara Kelisa, literally meaning black church).
- This monastery was most probably built in the ninth century (Anno Domini).
- This monastery sustained serious damages but was repaired during the Safavid era.
- This monument was registered in the national heritage list with the number 429 on Esfand 15, 1341 (Solar).
- Also, this monastery has been registered in the UNESCO heritage list.
- This monastery is still used and in one day of the year thousands of Armenians get together at this place to perform their religious rituals.
The History of Saint Stepanos Monastery
There are controversial opinions about when this monastery was built. Some believe this structure belong to the first era of Christianity. Though Jean-Baptiste Tavernier believes this structure is from the Safavid era. Also, there is some architectural evidence indicating that this structure belongs to the fourth and sixth century (Lunar). For examples some of the similarities that exist between this place and the Monastery of Saint Thaddeus (in the Western Azerbaijan province). By the testimony of some Armenian historians this structure was built by one of the twelve apostles named saint Bartholomäus during the first century (Anno Domini).
This monastery other than the fact that it was a place for people to do their religious rituals and hold religious classes, was a place for artists in the field of painting and gilding, songs and music, calligraphy, science and philosophy and etc. to gather.
The Architecture of Saint Stepanos Monastery
The structure of the monastery is cylindrical and it’s covered by a conical dome. This monastery is built from pink, red, and white stones and has given this structure such grandeur. In the saint Stepanos monastery there are seven guarding towers and five stone cylinders like forts. The current form of the monastery is the result of the mixture of Urartu, Sasanian, and Roman architecture.
The proportions of the monastery are about 15.85 in 22.37 meters and has two entrances. In the external part of the monastery there is a bell house which has a dome.
The main building of the monastery has three parts:
- The quadrangle of the monastery and the hexadecagon dome.
- Bell tower
- Daniel’s stove
The beautiful woodcarver door of the monastery will surely attract your attention. This door belongs to the Qajar era. You can go through the souvenir of the Qajar era. On the entrance door there is a stone tablet by Abbas Mirza in Persian with its Armenian translation.
The Quadrangle of the Monastery and the Hexadecagon Dome
After the entrance door of the saint Stepanos monastery there is a hexadecagon dome on top of the monastery. A beautiful dome which is embellished with geometric designs. Every other side has a window which open to the inside of the dome and the quadrangle of the monastery and lighten up the inside of the quadrangle with natural light. The quadrangle of the monastery is in the shape of a cross with the proportions of 21 in 16 meters and has a porch and altar.
The bell tower of the monastery is located in the southern side of the monastery and has been built in two stories and on four pillars. On its second floor you can see the pyramidal dome that has been built upon eight prism like small pillars. On top of the pyramidal dome of the bell tower like on top of the main dome of the monastery is a metal cross. The pillars of the bell tower are built from red stones and beautiful and artistic starters.
The brow of the twins of this pillar are decorated with protuberant patterns such as angels, cross, orange, star and eight petal flower.
Saint Daniel was born in the year 410 (Anno Domini) in Syria and after 80 years of hardship and worship died in a village near the bank of Euphrates. The Daniel’s stove which is also called the chapel of honor Polos, is a hall connected to the northern wall of the monastery which has a rectangular plan whose entrance is on the western side of the structure. This section also has three parts:
- Gathering hall, in the middle
- Stove, eastern side
- Baptism place, western side
Decorations of the Saint Stepanos Monastery
The fact that this monastery has been built in a beautiful and green environment is only of its preliminary beauties. Although you have to walk uphill for a while to get to the monastery, but the good weather and waling among trees makes this distance pleasant for you.
The external walls of the monastery are carved with beautiful stones.
- Due to the mountainous path and then the steps of the monastery, visiting this place is not recommended for people who are not able to walk.
- After visiting the monastery you can shop at the handicraft shop which is near.
- After visiting the monastery you can go to the shops located in the city of Jolfa and enjoy shopping at reasonable price.
Visiting the Saint Stepanos Monastery
Address: Eastern Azerbaijan, 17 kilometers to the west of the city of Jolfa and 3 kilometers to the south of the bank of Aras river, the Qezel Vank (literally red cathedral) neighborhood.
Visiting hours: 9 to 18
Closed days: Khordad’s fourteenth, Ramadan’s twenty first, Shavval twenty fifth, Moharram ninth and tenth, Safar twenty eighth
Ticket price: 25,000 Toman
Ticket price for foreign visitors: 150,000 Toman
If you are heading out to Tabriz be sure to read this article: Click here