Isfahan is famous not only for its label Nesf-e Jahan (half of the world) but also as a city of history and culture is full of magnificent historical monuments like the Vank Church with no match in the other half of the world.
One of the sweetest historical monuments of this beautiful city is the Vank Church. According to many is one of the coziest and characteristic sights of Isfahan and is a small ancient town in the heart of a historical city. Vank Church has many eye-catching features.
Vank Cathedral Church is one of the Churches of the Iranian Christians (in Iran, the Armenians) of Isfahan and one of the valuable historical monuments of this city. The Ministry of Cultural Heritage, Tourism and Handicraft, registered this church on January 6, 1961, and its name comes from the name of Vank Church in Nakhchivan. Vank Church has another name and is also known as the Church of the Holy Savior.
Christians of Jolfa built this church during the reign of Shah Abbas II. The church dates back to 1906, and more than a century has passed since its construction. The Vank Church was a small building in the southwest of its foundation, though they called it Jacobs back in the days. Constructing the present-day Vank Church began about 50 years later, in 1655, and in 1664 it was complete.
One of the things that fascinate the viewers of Vank Church is the paintings of the Vank Church. The spectators of this amusing work are enclosed in colors and patterns as soon as they enter it. All parts of the church are full of paintings, the walls, the arches, and the dome collars. Inside the dome and different corners of the church, even outside the church; Paintings. Some on the walls, some on canvas, cloth, and boards, and some on stones.
The first category of paintings in the church, cloth paintings, is in the sanctuary and some other parts of it. The second category, the drawings on the walls, can be seen everywhere in the church.
Most of the paintings on the doors and walls of the church depict themes from the Holy Bible. In the Vank Church, we can see images from the birth to the ascension of Jesus Christ, and on other walls are the Day of Judgment and heaven and hell.
At the hymns, there are four images with globes around them depicting the torture of saints.
In addition to the paintings mentioned above, there is an interconnected painting in the church. The drawings start from the chamber of the church and have a narrative mode and depict events continuously. The story begins with the proclamation of the angel of God to Mary. They cover the church, scenes such as the birth of Christ, the prostration of the three kings to Christ, the test of Jesus by Satan, the last supper of Jesus, his crucifixion, and the burial of Jesus.
But the church paintings do not end there. On the north wall of the church, there are images of the resurrection. There we can see paradise and the entrance of the saved. Further down, there is hell with its fire’s flares, the multi-headed dragon, the wall of angels, and the angels who hang sinners from above.
Underneath the dome of the Vank Church, located above the altar, you can also see paintings that tell the story of the creation of Adam and Eve until the death of Abel.
After the paintings, there are stone sculptures in the church that are spectacular. These sculptures are half-length statues dedicated to some Armenian figures. There are also statues in different parts of the church like the statue of Mesrop Mashtots, the inventor of the Armenian alphabet, Khachatur Kasaratsi, the Armenian archbishop, to the right of the museum entrance. Until 1646 it was located in the square in front of Vank Church.
Vank Church has two small and large domes. They constructed the large dome on top of the altar, and the smaller one is above the church hall for people to gather.
The architectural style of the large dome of the church is similar to the architectural style of mosque domes, while the roof of traditional churches is conical. Considering the coincidence of the year of constructing the church with the Safavid period, the construction of the dome in the style of mosque architecture has not been far from the mind.
The exterior of the large dome of Vank Church is made of brick and the inside is painted in azure. There are eight windows around the dome, each with paintings depicting the creation of Adam and Eve until Abel was killed.
Preserving and transmitting Iranian Christians’ culture to future generations has been one of the most important duties of churches. For this reason, churches usually have museums where old and valuable artifacts are kept. Vank Church is no exception to this rule and has a large and complete museum in its heart. The museum is a century old and was built by Thaddeus of Greece on the north side of the church.
The Vank Church Museum holds valuable artifacts such as historical paintings, exquisite manuscripts, and other valuable antiquities; Valuables that were in the church’s abandoned warehouse before the museum was built!
The Vank Church Library is located in the northern part of the church. The library was established in 1884 by the then caliph, Johannes Sornian, and was established to preserve valuable Armenian books. In addition to Armenian books, there are other historical works in Persian, English and other languages in this library and their collection reaches more than 30,000 copies.
For this reason, a statue of a man standing in front of Vank Church has been erected in memory of Khachatur Kasaratsi, the founder of the first printing press in Iran.
Iran has many mosques as it once had many fire temples, but no one can say that Iran was exclusively a Muslim or a Zoroastrian country because these religious minorities have always been involved in Iranian culture and its economy and flourished during the heyday of Iran like the Safavid era. Iran’s art and economy were helped a lot by them and Iran will not forget any of its children.