The immigration of Armenian to Iran caused building lots of churches, specially in Isfahan. One of them is Vank cathedral which is located in Jolfa neighborhood. Honestly, it is impossible to visit Isfahan without visiting this wonderful place. Its fame is not only because of the architecture of the church but also for the real atmosphere of the area, beside there are lots of famous café there. In Jolfa there are other churches but Vank is the most important one. It has been a Christian school, training lots of Caliphs through its history.
Vank congregational cathedral, or Amenaperkič, means the holy savior, was built during the 17th century by the order of the Safavid king, Shah Abas the 2nd. But, why Armenian were immigrated to Iran? In fact, Shah abas the 1st after conquering Yerevan and defeating Ottomans, decided to return to his capital. On his why, he ordered to ruin villages and farms in order to reduce the pace of chasing by the enemy. It actually led the departure of inhabitants, because if they did not they would have been killed by Ottomans. In the other word, there was nothing left to live with. In addition when the king noticed that Ottomans are getting closer, ordered to march faster and cross Aras river. It has said that lots of Armenian were drowned or died during their tough journey. Those whom survived settled in Isfahan and about 50 years later, they were moved to Jolfa neighborhood. This name, Jolfa, is adopted by their village name near Nakhichevan. Then, Shah Abas the 2nd allow them to have their religious buildings and do the rituals. After finishing the constructions an inscription used to be installed on the western entrance; “the construction of Amenaperkič cathedral had begun in 1655, during the reign of Shah abas the 2nd and the leadership of Bishop David, and also with the help of people of Jolfa, finished in 1664.” The importance of this church caused its expansion, some other parts annexed to the church such as; library, tower, museum, etc.
Vank cathedral has different sections such as; the praying hall, bell tower, clock, museum, library, etc. In spite of other Armenian churches, Vank is constructed with bricks, instead of stone, which is adopted by Iranian architecture. Walls part winged angels are depicted on tile workings, and the interior part decorated with stucco works and painting. This cathedral has two entrances that the main one is used by publics. Above this part there is a painting of the cathedral. In addition there is an inscription: “the monastery is a shelter for everyone and also a place for nuns”. After the entrance there is an aisle, on which each side there is a chamber.
The bell tower
On the right side of the entrance stairs, there is a three-story building. It is a bell tower but the existence of a clock in the second level, 300 kg, caused to call as a clock tower as well. On the right side of the entrance there is an inscription: “ Mardiros Hovnatanyan has built this tower and clock in 1931 in the memory of his brother”. Under this tower there are two graves, belonged to a soldier and a bishop. To the right there is a big, azure inscription surrounded with cross stones, brought there from the ruined cathedral of Nakhichevan. In addition there is another tower in this church, between the western wall and the small dome. In fact the first tower was built about 38 years later by ab Armenian merchant.
The praying hall
The praying hall with a rectangular plan consists two parts, a public area or a praying hall and a niche. At the bottom there are tall cornices ornamented with colorful tile workings and at top with amazing paintings. In addition there are two domes in the cathedral, a small one on the public side and a bigger one on the praying section. Entering to the praying hall, you will see two huge rectangular columns where the small dome is located. Although the small dome is conical, the bigger one is round, adopted by the domes of mosques. It has a simple decoration from the outside but a pure internal decoration. It is decorated with fantastic paintings about different stories such as; Adam and Eve. In fact in this cathedral, paintings are absolutely eye-catching. They are about different stories of Bible e e.g. Christ, since he born till his ascension, resurrection, heaven, hell, three magus, etc. Awdic Stephan had paid for the paintings and Minas did paint the church. On the northern wall there is an inscription: “ Awdic painted this church in his memory and his family, died in February 5th 1669.
The commemorative tower
To the northwest of the cathedral there is a tower, in the memory of Armenian whom were genocide by Ottomans in 1915. Actually this tower was built 60 years later, 1975, an according to its architecture it is a symbolic tower:
1-The existence of a pyramid dividing Into four section shows the Armenian genocide and their disunity.
2-The four columns reaching each other at top is the symbol of raising of Armenians.
3-The design of an immortal spring can be the sign of Armenian hometown and their unusual situation after being departed. It is a pyramid divided into two parts but connected with the sign of immortal spring.
Like other Armenian cathedrals, Vank consisted different parts using for cultural and religious matters. The first phase of collecting objects dates back to 100 years ago, then the museum gradually expanded and now there are some Armenian paintings, books, manuscripts, religious objects, etc. In addition in 1997 an Armenian artist gifted two important sculptures to the museum, resembling Mesrop Mashtots, who invented the Armenian alphabet, and Khachatur Kesaratsi, the founder of the printing office.
The printing office
In 1620 Khachatur Kesaratsi was the bishop of Vank Cathedral. On his journey to Europe, 10 years later, he learn printing and founded the printing office after returning to Jolfa. Unfortunately, the printing office was destroyed due to the conflict among Armenians, between 1970 and 1977. Now just some parts of the machine and a machine gifted to the Cathedral, by a Bishop, are keeping in the museum.
When Armenian immigrated to Isfahan, they also brought some of their books. Later in 1884 bishop Hovhannes Sourenyan built a library in the cathedral and collected those books. Now more than 30000 books are keeping there which is a good resource of surveying about Armenians.
The official building
This cathedral, beside being a religious building has always been a social and official place as well, such as; some official works, registration of documents or some judicial affairs. In fact, it used to be a Christian hub even for Indians, but now is just for the Armenian in the south of Iran. This place is located to the south of the complex, being built during the 19th century.
Vank cathedral is one the most well-known and biggest cathedrals in Isfahan. Its architecture is a combination of Iranian and Armenian style. Moreover, it used to be a center for Iranian and Indian Christians but, now the bishop is the leader of Christians on the south of Iran.