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12/9/06

Emergency Restorations Completed on St. Thaddeus Church

By Maryam Tabeshian

Tehran, 8 December 2006 (CHN) -- Renovation experts ended their emergency restorations on the Church of Saint Thaddeus, locally known as Qara Kelisa (The Black Church), built 1700 years ago in the Iranian northwestern province of West Azarbaijan, in an attempt to inscribe this ancient monument in UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites in 2008.


St.Thaddeus Cathedral, known as
Qara Kelisa (Black Church)

Qara Kelisa had previously been put up by Iran for UNESCO world registration in 2007, but the international organization turned down the application due to lack of substantial documents including those pertaining to the value of the building and maps of its precincts. Experts of Iran’s Cultural Heritage and Tourism Organization (ICHTO) are now working on the Church’s dossier to be forwarded to UNESCO for a final review in 2008.
 
According to Qara Kelisa project manager, Mehdi Shoja-del, an equivalent of 60,000 US dollars had been allocated to the Church’s initial restorations which recently came to an end.
 
Heavy rains had washed away the mortar gluing the stones on the dome of the St. Thaddeus Church, causing cracks on the dome and its columns which, according to Shoja-del, were restored by experts during the initial phase of this project. He also said that the Church’s surrounding site was reorganized, the northern fortified tower was restored and the southwestern one was strengthened during the recent restoration works by experts.
 
This expert further added that the next phase of the project will begin once its plan is approved by the Council for the Management of Churches in Iran and will include restoration of stones on the Church’s façade, renovation of its museum, and construction of a center for archiving documents close to the Church.
 
Northwest Iran is home to the oldest churches in the country among which Qara Kelisa, St. Stepanous, and Zoorzoor stand out because of their antiquity.
 
The Thaddeus Church, locally known as Qara Kelisa or the Black Church, is considered one of the oldest churches in the world, whose construction began 1700 years ago. Historians believe that the Church is the tomb of Thaddeus who is said to have been one of Christ’s disciples who traveled to Armenia, then part of the Persian Empire, for preaching the teachings of Christ.
 
Armenians, an ethnic group living in the Persian Empire, followed Thaddeus’ teachings and converted to Christianity in 300 AD. Thaddeus was later martyred and buried in present-day West Azarbaijan province. A tomb was erected on his burial place by his followers who turned it into a small prayer house. The building was later changed into a cathedral in the seventh century AD.
 
According to the inscriptions remained there, the Church was ruined in by a devastating earthquake but was later restored in its current form by a Christian religious figure.
 
Today the church is known as Qara Kelisa and belongs to the Armenian community of Iran. It has an international reputation and hosts annual meetings of world Armenians each year in July-August.
 
Initially, this church comprised of a small hall with a pyramid-shaped dome on the top and 12 crevices similar to the Islamic dome-shaped buildings from the Mongol era. The main part of this pyramid structure followed Byzantine (Eastern Roman) architecture, including the horizontal and parallel fringes made of white and black stones in the interior and black stones on the exterior facing.
 
The monument has two sections: The old one which is made of black stones, hence the name Qara (black) Kelisa (church) was given to it by the locals, and the new one which is made of white stones, each with its specific engravings.
 
Special features, antiquity, architectural style, decorations, its religious importance among the world Armenians, and the celebrations held annually in Qara Kelisa make the Church worthy of inscription in UNESCO’s list.
 
Experts from Iran’s Cultural Heritage and Tourism Organization are also intending to have other famous churches in the province such as St. Stepanous Cathedral in Khoy and Zoorzoor Church in Chaldoran included as annexes to St. Thaddeus Cathedral after its registration.
 
View images of Qara Kelisa here
 
Historical Churches in Iran
Ancient Iranian Church Undergoes Repairs
Old Churches in Northwestern Iran Being Renovated
Old Church in Northern Iran Undergoing Restoration
Tatavous Church on its Way toward World Registration
Tatavous Church and Sultaniyeh Dome in Close Race for World Heritage Candidacy
Church of Saint Stephanos in Iran
 

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