Iran’s St. Thaddeus Monastery, a.k.a. the Qara Kilsa

Photo courtesy of Wikicommons

What if I were to tell you that one of the most famous Armenian churches of late antiquity is not in Armenia, but Iran. Is that something you might be interested in?

The St. Thaddeus Monastery, locally known as the Qara Kilsa or the Kalisa-ye Tadi, is one of the oldest churches in the world, possibly even the oldest in Iran. Legend has it that the Apostles Thaddeus and Bartholomew came here in the year 45 for evangelical activities. in this case converting Armenia and Persia to Christianity.

A Little History

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Thaddeus is said to have converted King Abgar V of what was then the kingdom of Edessa, today part of southern Turkey close to the Syrian border. When he died, his kingdom was divided up with his son Ananun getting Edessa and his nephew Sanatruk acquiring what is today Armenia. In 66, Ananun, probably out of jealousy, had Thaddeus and 3,000 of his followers executed. Thaddeus was martyred along with Ananun’s daughter Sandokht, who apparently had accepted Christianity, much to the dismay of her dad. It’s bit ironic since just under 300 years later, Armenia became the first country to officially adopt Christianity as its state religion.

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The chapel, soon to be church, was built in 371 over what many believe is St. Thaddeus’ final resting place.

The original church and monastery were mostly destroyed in 1319 due to a massive earthquake that struck the area. The current structure mostly dates from 1811 and was built under the orders of the Qajar prince Abbas Mirza.

The church was made a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2008.

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