Vank Cathedral in New Jolfa
The beautiful All Savior’s Cathedral in New Jolfa, locally known as the Vank Cathedral, at the far eastern end of Khaghani Street , is open to visitors from 8 am to noon and 2 to 5 PM, Monday to Saturday. Begun in 1606, at the time of arrival of Armenian immigrants to Esfahan, it was completed between 1655 and 1664 under the supervision of Archbishop David, with the encouragement of the Safavid rulers, and is the historic focal point of the Armenian church in Iran, although it has to a certain extent been supplanted by the recent Armenian cathedral in Tehran. Prior to its completion there was a small church which served as the center of Gregorian Christianity in Persia. Over the foundations of that small church was built the magnificent high altar of the Cathedral. The exterior of the church is unexciting but the interior is richly, if rather tastelessly , decorated with oil paintings of people sacred to the Armenians, and shows the mixture of style- Islamic Persian and Christian European- that characterizes most churches in Iran. The altar is named after St joseph of Arimathia, the relics of whom are preserved within the altar. The soaring walls and splendid arches and the domes of the building are intended to glorify the Creator. Form the tiled lower portions of the walls to the ceiling are horizontally covered with oil paintings and gilded carving in representation of the God’s revelation throughout the old and new Testaments.
It would not be out of place here to enumerate the paintings, which would being delight to all art lovers:
This represents the story of Creation in 8 episodes from Adam to his expulsion from the Garden of Eden and the death of Abel.
B. TOP ROW
Moving left from the northeast wall window and gradually passing right, are represented the Flood, Noah disembarking from the Ark, the Tower of Babel in construction, the destruction of the Tower, Hesse’s blossomed rod and the genealogy of jesus, the apparition of Daniel, the stoning of St Stephan and the Church symbolizing a ship of salvation
Start from the right of the altar and on two rows are depicted the following:
Abraham entertaining three Angels and the Annunciation;
Joseph reading the Moon and the Stars, and the Angle appearing to the Shepherds of Bethlehem;
Hagar and Ismail being expelled, and the Nativity;
Melchisedek worshipping Abraham, the worship the Magi;
The persecution of the Israelites by the Egyptians, the massacre of the innocents of the Bethlehem;
The Israelites bringing offerings to Moses. The presentation of the Christ to the Temple;
Coronation of Saul (Savough), Christ at the age 0f 12 in the temple;
The Ark being carried across the River Jordan, the Baptism of Christ in the River Jordan;
Baleam’s Ass, the temptation of Christ;
Angels guiding Lot from Sodom;
Moses Showing the tablets of the Ten Commandments, the Transfiguration;
The Ark being brought into Jerusalem, the entry of Christ into Jerusalem;
The golden calf, the purge of the Temple;
Elisha healing in the waters of Jericoh, the washing of the feet;
The Passover, the last Supper;
Shimei cursing David, the betrayal of Chris by Judas;
The Judgment of Solomon, Christ before Caiaphas;
Joseph interpreting Pharaoh’s dream, the scourging of Christ;
Joseph and Potiphar’s wife. Christ falsely accused and condemned to Crucifixion;
The brazen serpent, the Crucifixion;
Joseph being lowered into the pit, the descent from the Cross;
Jonah and the whale, the entombment of Christ;
The crossing of the Red sea by the Israclites, the Resurrection of Christ;
The sacrifice of Isaac. The Ascension;
Moses striking water from the rock, Pentecost ;and
The burning bush, the Assumption.
Represents a series of evangelical events in wall paintings. Commencing from the right to the Altar:
The parable of the beam and the splinter, the blind leading the blind, Mary Magdalene washing the feet of Christ, ‘’do not approach me’’ doubting Throes the stoning of St Stephan, the Sacrament of the church. In the same row are depicted the tortures being undergone by St Gregory the illuminator as narrated by Agatangeghos the historian. At the end row of paintings there is a group of other biblical events depicted, such as the resurrection from death of Lazar the Adulteress, the rising from bed of the paralytic, the assumption of the Virgin Mary.
The belfry faces the main entrance. There is a small museum (originally built in 1930, and moved to the present-day premises in 1971) where you might be able to find a guidebook on New jolfa in English, or someone who speaks English, as most educated Armenians do. There are as many 13 other churches in new jolfa as well. Two famous ones are the Holy mother of god and the Bethlehem. The Cathedral’s Press was founded in 1636 and was one of the first in the Middle East to print the Book of Psalms in 1638. During its 350 years of operation the Cathedral’s press has printed about 500 books and thousands of pamphlet, etc.
The Cathedral’s Library with more than 25,000 books in Armenian and most European Languages, is used as a reference and research library by the clergy and the interested scholars.