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St. Stephanus Bones Discovered in a Marand' Church


27 July 2005



Shahriar Adl, the director of the team documenting three Iranian churches for registration on UNESCO’s World Heritage List, said on Wednesday that they have discovered the bones of one of the successors of the Apostles of Jesus in one of the ceilings of the St. Stephanus Church, which is located near Marand in East Azarbaijan province.


Some historical sources, such as the travelogue of Frenchmen Jean Baptiste Tavernier (1605-1689), 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), who acted as a direct successor to Saint Peter, Saint Matthew, and the Prophet Daniel, are being kept in the St. Stephanus Church.


“The East Azarbaijan Cultural Heritage and Tourism Department sent a letter to the Prelacy of Iran after the team discovered the bones, asking their representative to attend the process of gathering the bones from the site last Sunday,” Adl said.


The team has also discovered several pieces of board from the boxes containing the bones, yellow and beige clothes, seeds of frankincense and some pieces of wax, and ocher beside the bones.


The 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, we could only determine that they are the bones of a single body but the individual bones can not be distinguished,” said team member Farzad Foruzanfar.


The complete skeleton belongs to a man about 50 years old with a strong body, he added.


The 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.


“The bones will be returned to be kept in a specific place during a special religious ceremony,” East Azarbaijan Cultural Heritage and Tourism Department Director Ali-Akbar Taqizadeh said.


Hayk 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).


The 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.


The 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.  




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