The Monastery of Saint Thaddeus (Armenian: Սուրբ Թադէոսի վանք – Surb Tadeosi vank’; Persian: Kelisā ye San Tādeus) is an ancient Armenian monastery in the mountainous area of West Azerbaijan Province, Iran.
Also known as the Black Church (Azerbaijani: Qara Kilsə; Persian: Qare Kelisā ), it is located about 20 kilometers from the town of Chaldiran. The monastery and its typical Armenian conical roofs are visible from long distances.
History and architecture
According to the tradition of the Armenian Apostolic Church, Saint Thaddeus, also known as Saint Jude, (not to be confused with Judas Iscariot), evangelized the region of Armenia and Persia. Thaddeus suffered martyrdom in Armenia, according to the same tradition, and is revered as an apostle of the Armenian Church. Legend has it that a church dedicated to him was first built on the present site in AD 68.
Little remains of the monastery’s original structure, as it was extensively rebuilt after an earthquake damaged it in 1319. Nevertheless, some of the parts surrounding the altar apse date from the 10th century.
Much of the present structure dates from 1811, when the Qajar prince Abbas Mirza aided renovations and repairs. Simeon, Father Superior of the monastery, added a large narthex-like western extension to the church.
The structure duplicates the design of the Etchmiadzin Cathedral, the mother church of the Armenian Apostolic Church. The 19th century additions were constructed from carved sandstone. The earliest sections are of black and white stone, hence its Turkic name Qara Kilse, meaning “the Black Church.”
In July 2008, the Monastery of Saint Thaddeus was added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List, along with two other Armenian monuments located in the same province, the Monastery of Saint Stepanos and the Chapel of Dzordzor.
Apostles Thaddeus and Bartholomew
According to Armenian Church tradition, the Apostles Thaddeus and Bartholomew traveled through Armenia in AD 45 to preach the word of God, where many people were converted and numerous secret Christian communities were established.
The ancient Christian historian Moses of Khorene told the following story, considered a legend by most modern historiographers. Thaddeus converted King Abgar V of Edessa. After his death, the Armenian kingdom was split into two parts. His son Ananun crowned himself in Edessa, while his nephew Sanatruk ruled in Armenia. About AD 66, Ananun gave the order to kill Saint Thaddeus in Edessa. The king’s daughter Sandokht, who had converted to Christianity, was martyred with Thaddeus. Her tomb is said to be located near the Qara Kelisa.
The annual ceremony and pilgrimage in the St. Thaddeus Monastery will be held 14-16 July 2016. It is held by the Armenian Diocese of Azerbaijan, Iran.
During these 3 days of pilgrimage, large tents are erected and rented to all christian visitors. Meanwhile, transportation is also managed by the Diocese. Autobuses take the pilgrims to the monastery on 14th and 16th June at 2 AM, for 3-day and 1-day visit. Return is on the 16th June at 5 PM. Food can be bought in site from the large supermarket erected there.
Visitors from overseas can reach to Tabriz by direct flights from Istanbul (Turkey) operated by Turkish Airways, every day at about 1 AM. Short stay visa is issued at the airport for the citizens of most countries, except few countries such as USA and UK. Make sure the visa requirement prior to your trip. Return flights routinely take off about 3 AM every day. Transportation from and to the airport is by taxi, (10 min).
Another alternative is to fly to Tehran Imam Khomaini airport, then transfer to Mehrabad airport or Azadi bus terminal (both are adjacent to each other) and then depart to Tabriz.
Armenian Diocese of Azarbaidjan is located in the central and historic part of Tabriz, Shariaty Jonubi (Shahnaz) avenue. It can be easily found at the center of this avenue. Bus thickets and tent rental are sold a week before the departure.
There are many hotels and hostels with affordable prices in the center of Tabriz and adjacent to the Diocese.