Vank Cathedral | Vank Church | Isfahan Armenian Church
Finding a Christian gem in the middle of a city that is known for its Islamic architecture is a real treat! In the middle of Isfahan’s Armenian Quarter, New Jolfa, lies this dear jewel: Vank Cathedral (also known as Kelisa-ye Vank (Vank Church), the Holy Savior Cathedral, and the Church of Saintly Sisters). Built at the climax of Islamic architecture, Vank became the meeting place of the world of Biblical paintings and the world of lovely domes. Read on to find out more about this matchless church, the gorgeous neighborhood you can find it, and the priceless museum that it houses.
- 1 Why Visit Vank Cathedral?
- 2 The Story of Vank Church
- 3 How Isfahan Armenian Church Looks – Vank Church
- 4 The Stunning Interior of Vank Cathedral – Vank Church
- 5 Vank Cathedral as a Museum of Paintings
- 6 Where Islam and Christianity Meet
- 7 Library and Armenian Ethnographic Museum of New Jolfa
- 8 Christmas in Jolfa
- 9 More About Vank Cathedral
- 10 Like to check out Vank Cathedral?
- 11 Isfahan Armenian Church Tour
- 12 Vank Church on Map
Why Visit Vank Cathedral?
- Vank Cathedral is one of Iran’s largest and most famous churches
- Vank Church showcases a precious mixture of Islamic and Armenian architecture
- Its interior decorations make it a unique piece of art among Armenian churches
- The cathedral is home to a gorgeous museum
- It is in the middle of Isfahan’s extremely popular Jolfa neighborhood
The Story of Vank Church
Early in 17th century, Abbas I of Persia (the Safavid king who made Isfahan one of the most beautiful cities of the 17th century world) relocated tens of thousands of Armenians from the strategic Nakhchivan to the outskirts of his capital city, Isfahan. With the religious freedom and the facilities Shah Abbas gave them, this Armenian population immediately set the foundations of New Jolfa. Of the 24 churches the Armenians built in their district, 10 are still standing today. The first monastery they built (1606) included a small church known as Amna Perkich (meaning All Healing).
About half a century later, the church was expanded into the finely designed Vank Cathedral with major changes. A bell tower (1702), a library (1884), and a museum (1905) were also added to the church. This impressive cathedral became the model of many Orthodox churches built later in the region. Still home to a large Iranian-Armenian community, The quarter where the Holy Savior cathedral is located has become one of the most precious parts of the historical city of Isfahan.
How Isfahan Armenian Church Looks – Vank Church
Stunning! The combination of different building styles in the construction of Vank Cathedral has resulted in a contrast between its interior and exterior. Outside, you can see an Islamic-style dome, relatively modern brickwork, 2 bell towers, and high arches (characteristic of 17th century Safavid architecture).
Despite traditional Armenian churches which are made of stone, Vank Cathedral is made of adobe brick. After entering the courtyard through the wooden door, you can see a large bell tower and graves of Protestant and Orthodox Christians. In addition, the main bell tower stands on 4 stone pillars and is a shelter for graves of a couple of Armenians. To the right of the bell tower, on a raised platform, you’ll find a memorial set up for the victims of the Armenian Genocide. In memory of those victims, Armenians gather here every year on April 23 to light candles. To the right of the main bell tower, crucifix stones recovered from the ruining churches in the district cover a large blue inscription. Also, the bell tower leads you to the central aisle of the church.
The Stunning Interior of Vank Cathedral – Vank Church
The simple exterior of Vank Cathedral has hidden a golden world inside. The elaborately decorated interior showcases a delicate combination of Byzantine architecture, Persian tiles, gilded carvings and European-style frescos. There, you can see a domed sanctuary, a semi-octagonal recess topped with a semi-dome, and a raised section reserved for the clergy and the choir. The walls, domes and ceiling are covered with fine frescos, gilded carving and intricate tile work.
Vank Cathedral as a Museum of Paintings
The interior of Vank Cathedral features fine paintings inspired from both the Old and the New Testament. Flowers (in the style of Persian miniature) and cherubs (in the style of Armenian art) are of the dominant motifs found in the cathedral. With a dominant combination of blue and gold, the central domed ceiling features the Biblical story of creation, and the story of Adam and Eve’s expulsion from the Garden of Eden. On the top part of the interior walls you can see stories of the life of Jesus. On the lower part you can find the horrifying scenes of Armenians being tortured by the Ottoman Empire. The northern wall showcases the judgement day, with heaven on the top and the hell below it. Illustrations of Jesus also cover the beautiful church altar.
Where Islam and Christianity Meet
Vank Cathedral is one of the few places where you can trace a fine combination of Armenian architectural elements with Islamic architecture. Of the Islamic elements found in the Cathedral, an Iranian dome, Islamic geometrical designs and a corridor with successive arches are the boldest. On the other hand, you can see Christian iconography, rich frescoes and tiling associated with Christian architecture.
Library and Armenian Ethnographic Museum of New Jolfa
Across the courtyard, you can find the library and museum of Vank Cathedral. Outside, you’ll see carved stones that depict Biblical stories. The library is a precious part of the cathedral. Because it houses the most precious possessions of the Armenian refugees who left their home in Nakhchivan for a new life in Isfahan. In their difficult journey, the only things they couldn’t give up was their books. Now the library of Vank Cathedral is a rich house of Armenian and Medieval European sources and contains more than 700 manuscripts.
Plus, the Ethnographic Museum is home to relics left from the Armenian community of Isfahan and the history of the cathedral. Ritual artifacts, Safavid costumes, European paintings, documents related to the 1915 Armenian Genocide are of the precious stuff you can find in the museum. Also, you can see 17th century edicts from Abbas I of Persia and his successors. In them, they order the establishment of New Jolfa, and prohibit persecution of Armenians and interference with their affairs. A printing house which includes a few of the earliest printing machines used in Iran is also a must-see part of the museum.
Christmas in Jolfa
Every year, Christmas brings a world of light and delight to the Armenian Quarter of Isfahan. The pleasant aroma of Armenian sweets fills the air and Christmas decorations fill every corner in the neighborhood. With Christmas trees and lights and a Santa, Vank Cathedral also becomes a welcoming host to visitors of every religious background.
More About Vank Cathedral
8 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Every day except for some public holidays
Attractions near Vank Cathedral
Jolfa, the Armenian quarter where you can find Vank Cathedral, is a charm of the city in and of itself. The region presents you with a rare mixture of the old world and the new. Also, it is probably Isfahan’s most romantic neighborhood and a hot spot for the young Isfahanis.
You can simply enjoy a walk in the middle of the gorgeous neighborhood or try its awesome shopping centers. With their traditional and artistic aura, the shops will make you stay for hours. In a walking distance from Vank Cathedral and next in the line are 2 of Jolfa’s many churches: Saint Mary Church and Bethlehem Church. Except for the churches, you can also check out Jolfa Square, get familiar with Persian music in Isfahan Music Museum and enjoy the beauties of Hovhannes Historical House. So, many choose to visit Jolfa in the evening and end the day with the lively atmosphere of its Cafés.
Where to Eat Near Vank Cathedral
Hermes Café Restaurant
Bahar Narenj Café
Like to check out Vank Cathedral?
Then book a seat at either one of our multi-day Cultural Tours or our few-hour tour: Musical Delights in Isfahan.
I’m a protestant from Spain and I’m visiting as many cathedrals as I can. This one and the one in northwest Iran (I guess) are on my list.