Armenian Monastic Ensembles of Iran

Armenian Monastic Ensembles of Iran

The Armenian Monastic Ensembles of Iran, in the north-west of the country, consists of three monastic ensembles of the Armenian Christian faith: St Thaddeus and St Stepanos and the Chapel of Dzordzor. These edifices – the oldest of which, St Thaddeus, dates back to the 7th century – are examples of outstanding universal value of the Armenian architectural and decorative traditions.

They bear testimony to very important interchanges with the other regional cultures, in particular the Byzantine, Orthodox and Persian. Situated on the south-eastern fringe of the main zone of the Armenian cultural space, the monasteries constituted a major center for the dissemination of that culture in the region. They are the last regional remains of this culture that are still in a satisfactory state of integrity and authenticity. Furthermore, as places of pilgrimage, the monastic ensembles are living witnesses of Armenian religious traditions through the centuries.


Outstanding Universal Value

The Armenian monasteries of Iran have borne continuous testimony, since the origins of Christianity and certainly since the 7th century, to Armenian culture in its relations and contact with the Persian and later the Iranian civilizations. They bear testimony to a very large and refined panorama of architectural and decorative content associated with Armenian culture, in interaction with other regional cultures: Byzantine, Orthodox, Assyrian, Persian and Muslim.

The monasteries have survived some 2,000 years of destruction, both of human origin and as a result of natural disasters. They have been rebuilt several times in a spirit in keeping with Armenian cultural traditions. Today they are the only important vestiges of Armenian culture in this region. Saint-Thaddeus, the presumed location of the tomb of the apostle of Jesus Christ, St. Thaddeus, has always been a place of high spiritual value for Christians and other inhabitants in the region. It is still today a living place of pilgrimage for the Armenian Church.


Criterion (ii): The Armenian monasteries of Iran illustrate the Outstanding Universal Value of Armenian architectural and decorative traditions. They bear testimony to very important cultural interchanges with the other regional cultures, in particular Byzantine, Orthodox and Persian.

Criterion (iii): Situated at the south-eastern limits of the main zone of Armenian culture, the monasteries were a major centre for its diffusion in the region. Today they are the last regional testimony of this culture in a satisfactory state of integrity and authenticity.

Criterion (vi): The monastic ensembles are the place of pilgrimage of the apostle St. Thaddeus, which bears an outstanding living testimony to Armenian religious traditions down the centuries.

The State Party has made a remarkable long-term effort regarding the restoration and conservation of the Armenian monastic ensembles in Iran. Their integrity and authenticity are satisfactory, and this includes the Chapel of Dzordzor, which (because of a dam construction project) was moved and then rebuilt with an evident concern to retain authenticity.

The legal protection in place is adequate. The monastic ensemble is currently in a good state of conservation. The management plan provides the necessary guarantees for the long-term conservation of the property and the expression of its Outstanding Universal Value.


History of Thaddeus

It can be argued that Thaddeus was the least well-known of all of the Apostles.  The Bible says virtually nothing of him beyond his inclusion in the list of Apostles.  Even in the Apocryphal Gospels, which has more extensive, if non-canonical, stories of the Apostles, he is barely mentioned.  To make matters worse, even his identity is enigmatic.  He is only mentioned in two of the gospels, though he is usually identified as the Apostle Jude who does appear in the other two gospels.  And yet, for all of the mystery surrounding this little-known companion of Jesus, a great tradition has grown up around him.

According to legend, Thaddeus and his brethren preached throughout Palestine following the Ascension of Jesus.  Later he moved on to Libya, and then to Syria and Mesopotamia.  He eventually found his way to Armenia, perhaps in the company of either Simon the Zealot, the Apostle Bartholomew or both, where he spent the final years of his life until his martyrdom sometime around the year 65 AD.  Unfortunately, there is no way to verify this tradition, even through the use of questionable Apocryphal or even Gnostic documents.

Nevertheless the belief is very strong that Thaddeus did evangelize in Armenia, and that he died there; and of the lesser-known Apostles, the tradition of Thaddeus’ tomb is possibly the most plausible.  Actually, the largest question concerning the authenticity of the holy site is that it was actually the tomb of Thaddeus of Edessa, one of the Seventy Disciples of Jesus, who traveled into the east with the Apostle Thomas, rather than that of Thaddeus the Apostle.  Either way, it is the resting place of a very important early church figure.

According to tradition, the first church was built on the site around 68 AD, a few years after Thaddeus’ death.  Over the centuries this was replaced by a series of larger churches, including one from the 10th century and one from the 14th century.  The entire site was completely rebuilt in the 19th century thanks to the generosity of a local Muslim prince.  However, in the wake of the 1979 Iranian revolution, the local Christians were driven from the site and told not to return.  A special dispensation was permitted for pilgrims to visit only on St. Thaddeus’ feast day.  Because of this, and because of its geographic isolation, the St. Thaddeus Monastery is perhaps the world’s least visited major Christian site.



Stephen often given as a title rather than as a name), traditionally venerated as the Protomartyr or first martyr of Christianity, was according to the Acts of the Apostles a deacon in the early church at Jerusalem who aroused the enmity of members of various synagogues by his teachings. Accused of blasphemy, at his trial he made a long speech denouncing the Jewish authorities who were sitting in judgment on him and was then stoned to death. His martyrdom was witnessed by Saul of Tarsus, a Pharisee who would later himself become a follower of Jesus and known as Paul the Apostle.

The only primary source for information about Stephen is the New Testament book of the Acts of the Apostles. Stephen is mentioned in Acts 6 as one of the Greek-speaking Hellenistic Jews selected to participate in a fairer distribution of welfare to the Greek-speaking widows.

The Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, Oriental Orthodox, Eastern Orthodox Churches, and the Church of the East venerate Stephen as a saint. Stephen’s name in the original Greek of the Acts of the Apostles is given as Stephanos, meaning “crown”. Traditionally, Stephen is invested with a crown of martyrdom; artistic representations often depict him with three stones and the martyr’s palm frond. Eastern Christian iconography shows him as a young, beardless man with a tonsure, wearing a deacon’s vestments, and often holding a miniature church building or a censer.

Saint Stephen is first mentioned in Acts of the Apostles as one of seven deacons appointed by the Apostles to distribute food and charitable aid to poorer members of the community in the early church. According to Orthodox belief, he was the eldest and is therefore called “archdeacon”. As another deacon, Nicholas of Antioch, is specifically stated to have been a convert to Judaism, it may be assumed that Stephen was born Jewish, but nothing more is known about his previous life.


Hovhannes Erznkatsi

It was built by the Archbishop of Saint Thaddeus, Zakaria, Under the supervision of the Archbishop Hovhannes Erznkatsi, one of the celebrities of the Armenian literature, he was residing in this church in 1341, and therefore he is also called ” Tsortsoretsi”.