late July, Shahriar Adl, the director of the team documenting three
Iranian churches for registration on UNESCO’s World Heritage List, said
that they had discovered the bones of one of the successors of the
Apostles of Jesus at the St. Stephanus Church, which is located near
Marand in East Azarbaijan.
the box, which contains the remains of the apostles’ bodies and was
found under the altar of the St. Stephanus Church, it is said that the box
contains the body of John the Baptist. According to Armenian historian
Arakel Davrizhetsi (17th century), the box, which was located under the
main altar of the Church of the Holy Trinity in old Jolfa and contained
the sacred remains and a scroll, was given to Shamun, the archbishop of
St. Stephanus Church, after the Church of the Holy Trinity was
destroyed,” Sarkisian explained.
remains may very likely have historic value. According to the tradition of
the church, we know that after St. Gregory the Illuminator was consecrated
as archbishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia, in a friendly gesture, he gave
some remains of John the Baptist to Quintius, the archbishop of the
region, during his return trip to Armenia. The remains were transferred to
the John the Baptist Cathedral in the city of Mush in Armenia.
the remains were somehow transferred to another place, as a consequence of
the wars and chaotic conditions prevailing in the land over past
centuries, in which believers and church fathers changed the location of
the box in order to safeguard it. A French traveler (Jean Baptiste
Tavernier, 1605-1689), who saw a box at the St. Stephanus Church when he
visited the place in the 17th century, had said that the box contained the
body of one of the Apostles,” Sarkisian said.
historical sources, such as some photos kept at Tehran’s Golestan
Palace, and the photos taken by Ali Khan Vali, the governor of northern
Azarbaijan during the reign of the Qajar king Nasser ad-Din Shah and kept
in the Adl family archives, indicate that the bones of Saint Stephanus
(Saint Stephen), Saint Matthew, and the Prophet Daniel, are being kept in
the St. Stephanus Church.
bones have been examined by a team of anthropologists of the Cultural
Heritage and Tourism Organization (CHTO).
the bones have been damaged because of the bad condition of the place.
Thus, the team could only determine that they are the bones of a single
body but the individual bones can not be distinguished.
experts have said that the complete skeleton belongs to a man with a
strong physique who was about 50 years old when he died.
bones have been transferred to the Prelacy of Azarbaijan in Tabriz because
restoration work is currently underway in the church, but they will be
returned after the renovation is complete.
Ajimian, an Armenian scholar and historian, recorded that the church was
originally built in the ninth century CE, but repeated earthquakes in
Azarbaijan severely damaged the original structure. The church was
renovated during the reign of the Safavid king Shah Abbas (1588-1629).
general structure of the St. Stephanus Church mostly resembles Armenian
and Georgian architecture and the inside of the building is adorned with
beautiful paintings by Honatanian, a renowned Armenian artist.
CHTO plans to submit an application to UNESCO to register the St.
Stephanus Church as well as the St. Thaddeus and Zorzor churches in West
Azarbajian on the World Heritage List.