The Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Church was founded, according to tradition, by Apostles Bartholomew and Thaddeas in the later part of the 1st century. Armenia was the first country to accept Christianity as the state religion in 301. Most Armenian Christians originally settled in the area around Jolfa, in northern Iran, close to the border with Armenia.
Shah Abbas of the Safavid Dynasty forcibly moved 10,000 Armenian families from the area around Jolfa to Esfahan in the 17th century in order to assist him in rebuilding his new capital. They settled across the river in a part of the city which they named New Jolfa. The Armenians were known as being particularly fine craftsmen and, to this day, Reza told us, you want your car mechanic to be Armenian.
We traveled by bus from Tabriz to Jolfa, close to the border of the Republic of Azerbaijan, to see this magnificent church and monastery. There is speculation about the earliest construction on this site (founded by St. Bartholomew in 62 AD or by an Armenian king in the 9th century) but the oldest part of the current structure is from the 14th century and most was constructed in the 16th. The setting is spectacular.
The most memorable part of my experience at the cathedral was my conversation with a group of young teenage school girls in the adjacent museum. They surrounded me and started with:
Can we ask you a few questions? Yes.
Where are you from? America.
How do you like Iran? It is very beautiful.
Oh thank you. How do you like wearing the scarf? It is the law in your country. I want to visit your country so I must obey the law.
I decided to ask them some in return:
Do you have cell phones? Yes.
Do you talk to your friends on them? Yes.
What do you talk about? Our studies.
Do you ever talk about boys? Giggle giggle giggle. Oh no. We only talk about our studies.