The Armenian Monastic Ensembles of Iran includes the ancient monasteries of St Thaddeus and St Stepanos and the Chapel of Dzordzor. The Kelisa Darre Sham (Church of St. Stephanos) is situated near the city of Jolfa near the Azerbaijan border. Set in dramatic mountain scenery, this church and working monastery was founded by the Armenian King Ashot in the 9th century though it is said that a church occupied this site as early as the first century AD. Its oldest parts date back to the 14th century with the main building having been rebuilt in the late 16th century after being destroyed by an earthquake. The church is built in the style of Armenian or Georgian architecture with a bell tower and a cylindrical tower with a conical roof though archways featuring stalactite work are reminiscent of Persian mosque architecture. The exquisitely preserved exterior reliefs feature religious imagery such as angels and Armenian crosses.
The Qar-e Kelisa (The Black Church), also known as the Church of St. Thaddaeus is situated in foothills near the city of Siyah Cheshme. It is said that the disciple Thaddaeus (also known as Jude) was allowed to preach in the Armenian city of Edessa after healing the local king. The city of Edessa became the first Christian city and a church was constructed in 68 A.D. – only the second ever in the short history of Christianity. The dark stone domed sanctuary from which the church gets its name dates back to the 10th or 11th century while the main body of the church is a pale sandstone construction. This larger section, consisting of a 12-sided drum supporting a tent dome, was rebuilt after the church was damaged by an earthquake in 1319. Further additions were made in the 19th century. Reliefs typical of early Armenian churches decorate the outer walls. Some depict religious imagery such as effigies of saints and angels while others show battle scenes, hunting scenes and floral, geometric and arabesque patterns. The inscription over the entrance gate reads “Abbas Mirza” the name of the general sent to the region by Fath Ali Shah to fight the Russians. Today, the church is a working convent and still attracts Armenian Christian pilgrims from all over Iran. It was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2008.