Qara Kelisa (Kara Kilise or "Black Church"), also known as the St. Thaddeus Church (Saint Thaddeus Cathedral), is one of the oldest and most notable surviving Christian monuments of Iran that carries great significance for the country's Armenian Orthodox community. This church is situated in the village of Qarah Kelisa, district of Siyah Cheshmeh, Maku. It is the tomb of the sacred Thaddeus.
According to historical records of the Sassanian period, some of the Armenians were the followers of prophet Zoroaster, whereas some were sun worshipers. In the year 43 AD. two men by the name of Tatavoos (Thaddeus) and Batholemus (Bartholomew) preached on Christianity in the vicinity of Azarbayjan, thereby gaining number of followers (3500 people ) including the daughter of the monarch of the time.
The Saint Thaddeus Monastery is an ancient Armenian monastery located in the mountainous area of Iran's West Azarbaijan Province, about 20 kilometers from the town of Maku.
In order to stop the advancement of Christianity, the Armenian ruler ordered for their massacre in the year 66 AD. It is said that their bodies were buried in the vicinity of this church. In the year 1329 AD. , the church was renovated and in the year 1810 AD. was repaired. This church comprises of two sections, one is the 'Black Church' which is the older section, and the other being the 'White Church' is larger than the other and is the new segment. The black church has mythical artistic efforts on its structure whereas in the new church the engravings differs.
An ancient chapel two kilometers northwest of the church is said to have been the place where the first Christian woman, Sandokh, was martyred. The chapel is believed to be as old as Qara Kelisa.
Most of the present structure dates from the early 19th century when Qajar prince Abbas Mirza helped in renovations and repairs. The 19th century additions are from carved sandstone. The earliest parts are of black and white stone, hence its Turkish name Kara Kilise, the Black Church.
The Monastery of Saint Thaddeus enjoys specific Armenian architecture and is considered one of the most valuable historical monuments of the country in terms of technique and volume. The building is world famous and a great number of Armenians from inside and outside the country come to the church to hold religious rituals.
Every year in July a great number of Armenians make a pilgrimage to St. Tade Monastery.
Armenians believe Qara Kelissa or St. Thaddeus Church was the first church constructed in the world at the orders of evangelists and apostles of Jesus and since from religious point of view they consider martyrdom the highest of salvations for humanity, every year a special service is held at Qara Kelissa in the second half of July which coincides with the murder of Saint Thaddi and his Christian followers.
Anyway, the church is annually the gathering place of Armenians of Iran and even neighboring countries on the occasion of an annual ceremony. On the week beginning July 22, Armenians from the cities of Tabriz, Uremia, Tehran, Isfahan, Qazvin, and… converge at Qara Kelissa church in groups or as a family. In addition to Armenians, Assyrians and rarely Catholic families take part in the ceremony.
Saint Thaddeus Cathedral was registered as the ninth historical-cultural heritage of Iran at the 32nd International Heritage Committee of the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in Quebec, Canada.