The All Saviour's Cathedral, locally known as the Vank Cathedral or the Church of the Saintly Sisters, is the most famous example of Isfahan's Christian religious architecture. An exemplary specimen of Armenian architectural achievement, the cathedral represents different stages of political, economic and social status of this minority community in Iran since the mid-seventeenth century. The Vank Cathedral was one of the first churches to be established in the city's Julfa quarter by Armenian immigrants settled by Shah Abbas I after the Ottoman War of 1603-05. The varying fortunes and independence of this suburb across the Zayandeh River and its eclectic mix of European missionaries, mercenaries and travelers can be traced almost chronologically in the cathedral's combination of building styles and contrasts in it's external and internal architectural treatment.
Originally a modest centre of Gregorian Christanity in Persia, the church was rebuilt as a magnificent cathedral over the relics of St. Joseph of Arimathia with the patronage of the Safavid emperors. Construction is believed to have begun in 1606, and completed with major alterations to design between 1655 and 1664 under the supervision of Archbishop David. The cathedral consists of domed sanctuary much alike a Persian mosque and eastern churches but with the significant addition of a semi-octagonal apse and raised chancel usually seen in western churches. The courtyard contains a large freestanding belfry towering over the graves of both Orthodox Armenians and Protestant Christians. The cathedral's exteriors are in relatively modern brickwork and are exceptionally plain compared to its ornately decorated interior with wall paintings and gilded carvings beyond a wainscot of rich tile work, reaching up to its high ceiling and dome. The delicately blue and gold painted central dome depicts the Biblical story of creation of the world and man's expulsion from Eden.
The cathedral today houses a museum, a historic printing press, and a large library invaluable for research in Armenian and medieval European languages and arts. Prime amongst the other revered and historic churches (Holy Mary, Hakop, George and the Bethlehem) in Isfahan, the All Saviour's Cathedral has continued to be the focus of the Armenian Church in Iran. The cathedral has greatly influenced the architecture and decorative treatment of many subsequent and smaller Orthodox churches in the entire Persian-Mesopotamian region.
Blake, Stephen. Half the World: The Social Architecture of Safavid Isfahan, 1590-1722. Costa Mesa: Mazda Publishers, 1999. 188, 189.
Blunt, Wilfrid. Isfahan: Pearl of Persia. New York: Stein and Day, 1966. 104.
Welch, Anthony. Shah Abbas & the Arts of Isfahan. New York: Asia Society Inc., 1973. 18.