Azarbaijan is host to the oldest churches in Iran. Among the most significant are the Tatavous Vank ( St. Tatavous Cathedral), which is also called the Ghara Kelissa (the black monastery). This is located at the Siahcheshmeh (Ghara-Eini) border area south of Makou. There is also the church known as Saint Stepanous, which stands 24 kilometers south of Azarbaijan's Jolfa town.
Generally, each church has a large hall for congregational prayers; its foremost part is raised like a dais, adorned with the pictures or images of religious figures and it also serves as an altar. Here, candles are lighted and the church mass is conducted by the priest. On the foreground is the praying congregation which face the platform where the priest is leading the rites in the church; this is similar to the Muslim practice of praying facing the niche in the mosque. While the mass is being said, the people stand, kneel, or sit depending on what the rites require.
The structure of churches in Iran follow more or less the pattern of Iranian architecture, or they are a mixture of Iranian and non-Iranian designs.
Saint Stepanous church is another old church located at an intersection west of the Marand-Jolfa highway and east of the Khoy-Jolfa road. Also having a pyramidal dome, it is, nevertheless, quite beautiful and far more pleasant to behold than the Saint Tatavous church.
The general structure mostly resembles Armenian and Georgian architecture and the inside of the building is adorned with beautiful paintings by Honatanian, a renowned Armenian artist. Hayk Ajimian, an Armenian scholar and historian, recorded that the church was originally built in the ninth century AD, but repeated earthquakes in Azarbaijan completely eroded the previous structure. The church was rebuilt during the rule of Shah Abbas the Second.
... Payvand News - 01/02/11 ... --