St. Stepanos Monastery which was built in the ninth century AD is the second most important Armenian Church in Iran after the Ghara Kelisa. It is located in East Azarbaijan province, 17 kilometers west of the city of Jolfa, 3 kilometers south of the Aras River, in a place called Ghezel Vank (Red Monastery). Jolfa is a border town between Iran, Azerbaijan, and Armenia, located in East Azerbaijan Province of Iran, and is famous for its historical churches and often inhabited by religious minorities.
Unfortunately, the church was seriously damaged due to a severe earthquake but was later restored during the Safavid era.
The St. Stepanos Monastery is located within a fortified fort, and the Armenians refer to the complex of buildings that they built inside such forts as “Vank”. This church is respected by not only the Christians but also all the religions, but it actually belongs to the Gregorian Christian community in Armenia (followers of Gregor the Enlightener). On a special day of the year, Thousands of Armenians gather at this place to perform their special rituals.
Stephen St. Stepanos was one of the first Christian preachers and martyrs of the Christian religion. So there are many churches around the world with the same name. St. Stephen was stoned to death in Jerusalem in 36 AD, for allegedly speaking against the Jewish law.
Located in a beautiful atmosphere surrounded by tall trees, the church’s building is cylindrical and has a cone-shaped dome. All parts are built of stone and fence with seven guard towers and five cylindrical stones like strong fortifications of the Sassanid era. This building is a mixture of Urartu, Parthian and Roman architecture. The whole church is made of pink, red and white stones and its exterior walls are adorned with beautiful stones with impressive carvings.
The main building of St. Stephanus Church in Jolfa is composed of four sections:
The amazing relief of the apostles and saints and angels on the front side of the beautiful hexadecanoic dome can be seen in the interior view of the church.
In 2005, the Cultural Heritage Organization experts discovered the remaining bones of the some of the apostles and saints of Christ during the restoration which was preserved in the church according to historical documents. The Archbishop of the Armenians of Tehran and northern Iran stated that the remains may have belonged to the body of John the Baptist but for now, it is just a theory and more investigation is needed.