The two oldest churches in downtown Tehran
Our latest contributor Mariam has spent weeks researching where the oldest continuously operating churches are in Tehran and you’d be surprised how old they are!
Armenians have lived for millennia in the territory that forms modern-day Iran. But it was the Safavid Dynasty that took a special interest in this community. In the 16th century, the Ottoman Empire (modern-day Turkey) and the Persian Empire (modern-day Iran) divided up Armenia.
Shah Abbas I of the Safavid Dynasty located nearly half a million Armenians from his Armenian territories to Isfahan in 1603. They were given relative religious freedom under the Safavids and as their community flourished, they branched out to other parts of the kingdom, including Tehran.
While the oldest churches built in Iran aren’t located in Tehran, we’ve got some pretty old ones. So we’ve chosen two of the oldest to introduce to you.
The first one is Saint Thaddeus and Bartholomeus Church which was built in 1808.
Saint Thaddeus and Bartholomeus Church
Saint Thaddeus and Bartholomeus Church is the first church built by Armenians in Tehran. It’s located on Mowlavi Street, near Tehran’s Grand Bazaar. The church was built by a dozen Armenian families who had been brought to Tehran from Isfahan under the orders of the Qajar King, Fath Ali Khan. He wanted these Armenians, who were well-known craftsmen, to decorate his royal palaces which are located in the now Golestan Palace Complex.
A part of the church grounds was used to bury the limited Christian population of the period. Many foreign cultural and political figures, including a Georgian prince, are also buried there.
In 1970, when renovation works were being done on the chapel walls, layers of plaster fell off, revealing its magnificent original paintings. Religious services are currently held on the first Friday of each Christian month as well as once a year on a special day dedicated to the church.
Saint George’s Church
Saint George (Gevork) Church, built in 1884, is located in southern Tehran. Again, established during the Qajar Era, the church was initially an altar but grew to become a chapel when the population of Armenians grew in Tehran during Fath Ali Shah’s reign. Many famous Armenian-Iranians of the time are buried in the churchyard.
From very old times, many Iranian pilgrims from across the country come to visit the church during the 3 holy days to commemorate St. George and participate in religious ceremonies. The three days are held on the last days of September. The church also houses Armenian elderly who do not have a caretaker during their old age. The nursing home relies on public donations to offer services to the elderly.