Vank Cathedral/the Church of Saintly Sisters is one of the first churches to be established in Isfahan’s Jolfa district in 1606 by hundreds of thousands of Armenian deportees that were resettled by Shah Abbas I during the Ottoman War of 1603-1618. Vank means “monastery” or “convent” in the Armenian language. Construction is believed to have begun in 1606 by the first arrivals, and completed with major alterations to design between 1655 and 1664 under the supervision of Archbishop David. One of the first buildings constructed by Armenian immigrants in New Jolfa was Vank Cathedral. The construction of this cathedral began in 1606 and it was completed in 1664. With its domed sanctuary, Vank Cathedral incorporates elements of 17th-century Safavid and Islamic architecture. The interior of the cathedral is covered in fine oil paintings inspired by the works of Italian artists, gilded carvings, rich tilework and floral motifs in the style of Persian miniature paintings. The Cathedral also includes stones from the demolished churches of Julfa in Nakhchivan. One of the most outstanding features of this church is its Heaven and Hell mural. The blue and gold painted central dome depicts the Biblical story of creation and man’s expulsion from Eden. The exterior of the cathedral, unlike its interior, is made of brick and lacks any decorations. The cathedral complex includes a bell tower erected in 1702, a printing press established by Archbishop Khachatour Kesaratsi in 1636, a library containing 25,000 volumes established in 1884 and a museum opened in 1905, which includes a series of paintings by European artists donated to the museum, hand written manuscripts, edicts by Safavid and other Iranian monarchs about the Armenians of Iran, tapestries, maps, photographs, Safavid costumes and items of ethnological significance, which display the different aspects of Armenian life. It displays numerous artifacts from the history of the cathedral and the Armenian community in Isfahan, including:
The 1606 edict of Shah Abbas I establishing New Jolfa
Several edicts by Shah Abbas I and his successors condemning and prohibiting interference with, or persecution of, Armenians and their property and affairs in New Jolfa
A historic printing press and the first book printed in Iran
Vestments, monstrances, chalices, and other sacramental artifacts
Safavid costumes, tapestries, European paintings brought back by Armenian merchants, embroidery, and other treasures from the community’s trading heritage
Ethnological displays portraying aspects of Armenian culture and religion
An extensive display of photographs, maps, and Turkish documents (with translation) related to the 1915 Armenian Genocide in Turkey.