Saint Stepanos Monastery - Jolfa, East Azarbaijan Province, Iran (Persia)

The Saint Stepanos Monastery is located in the Dare Sham Village in the border territory with Nakhchivan, East Azerbaijan Province, Iran.  Since Stephanos was the first martyr of Christianity, there are different churches named after him across the world. The Stephanos Monastery belongs to the followers of Gregory (Gregory the Illuminator) who resides in Armenia but a group of them forcefully immigrated to Iran in the 9th century. When immigrated to Iran, they then built this church in a valley on a remnant of a Sassanid citadel and dedicated it to Saint Stepanos. The building that was later rebuilt during the Safavid Dynasty (1501-1736) has stonewalls and seven watchtowers.

The church consists of three main sections including the main chapel, Daniel Stove, and a bell tower in addition to some secondary structures. The bell tower belongs to the Qajar era (1789-1925) when the church was renewed by the order of Abbas Mirza. The structure is decorated with some relief angel, stars, and bergamot. The bell tower is located on a two-story iwan connected to the southern wall of the church. The tower has a metal cross on its head and its body is made of red stone with fascinating capitals.

The main area of the building consists of a prayer room that is 90.13 and 80.12 meters long and wide, respectively. Its entrance is located on the western side with an embossed wooden door belonging to the Qajar era. Around the door is also decorated with Muqarnas arches and also a Persian inscription with an Arminian translation dating back to the Qajar era. Following the tradition of church architecture, the structure has a cross-like plan with a 16-side dome. There is a window on every other of these 16 sides, which provide the church with enough light. There is an alter with stairs decorated with marble stone in the eastern part of the church. The altar and the interior parts of the dome are decorated with colorful paintings of angels and different decorative plasters.

Finally, Daniel’s Stove consists of three sections including a prayer hall, a stove that is separated by a wall and located on the eastern side of the prayer hall, and at last, the place of baptism. This structure is named after Saint Daniel who was one of the saints of the 5th century.