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Orumieh: City of ancient churches
On New Year’s Eve, I went to the Mahdi Al-Qadam neighborhood of Orumieh, the capital city of the northwestern province of West Azarbaijan, where a mosque and two churches are located close to each other.
Shia Muslim teenagers in black were preparing to hold a mourning ceremony for the martyrdom of Hazrat Fatima Zahra (PBUH), daughter of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) in the mosque, while Christians were busy in the churches decorating their altars and the holy idols of Saint Mary (PBUH).
Viguen, an Assyrian resident of Orumieh, said that he is fluent in Armenian. He added that his wife is Armenian and can speak Azari, Persian, Assyrian and Turkish.
He said Assyrians are an ethnic group indigenous to the ancient kingdom of Assyria, whose language is a member of the Semitic language family that is very similar to Arabic.
“Armenian people, however, are Christian refugees who arrived in Iran during the Parthian and Sassanid periods. Their language is a subcategory of Indo-European languages and is somehow similar to Iranian languages,” he noted.
He added that both groups have their own church.
The Assyrian Catholic Church faces the Armenian Orthodox Church in Mahdi Al-Qadam neighborhood of the city.
Mikhail, the custodian of the Assyrian church, showed me an old monastery, located next to the church, which has been closed for years. The church itself, with a red brick facade, is 150 years old. Its building was renovated in 1953. The high altar of the church, with a large cross and an image of Jesus Christ (PBUH) standing between two angels, is blue.
Mikhail said that wedding ceremonies are held in the church hall and funerals in the churchyard.
The statue of Saint Mary (PBUH), standing on a flower-covered platform and a place to light a candle, is located in the corner of the churchyard.
I left the Assyrian Catholic Church and entered the Armenian Orthodox Church, which, with its beautiful yellow brick facade, does not look very old. A person named Rafik opened the door for me. He said that the Armenian Church, which is older than 100 years, was renovated recently. His dialect was different from that of Mikhail.
He added that the church altar is a place just for priests; women do not go there. A number of candles, made by the Armenian people of Tabriz, were put on a table. The picture of the Virgin Mary (PBUH), embracing Jesus Christ (PBUH), was on the wall of the altar.
A piece of red velvet was spread under her feet on a few decorative steps, covered with crosses, candles and metal birds.
I went to Khayyam Street to visit the Assyrian Church of Saint Mary (PBUH) as well. On a plaque next to the entrance of the church, it is written that three Zoroastrian priests, who predicted the birth of Jesus Christ (PBUH), turned the building, which was a fire temple, into a church. Thus the church dates back to the first century CE.
Daryavash Azizian is the church’s priest, who said, “I have an Iranian name because I am Iranian, but the Assyrian pronunciation of my name is slightly different from that of Persian.”
He added that according to historical documents, the church was built on the tomb of one of the three Zoroastrian priests.
“A few years ago, during a renovation project, I found several wooden pieces of an old coffin. The radiocarbon dating performed on them showed that the grave was built right after the death of the Zoroastrian priest.”
Azizian noted that the body remains were probably taken out of the country by Russians or Germans.
The property includes two parts now: An old church, which was turned into a museum, and a new one, wherein religious ceremonies are held.
The church was restored by a Chinese Princess shortly before the rise of Islam in the seventh century.
The upper floor of the church, constructed by Russians in 1820, was ruined by Ottomans during World War I. The Ottomans destroyed numerous Assyrian and Armenian villages in northwestern Iran and damaged several churches.
A number of pictures with Assyrian symbols, are on the wall of the churchyard, below which there are several old rectangular tombstones with delicate and eye-catching carvings.
The exterior of the church, which was destroyed and renovated several times, has no architectural style. However, its interior, having Parthian-Sassanid architectural elements, has several interconnected halls, short and narrow corridors and stone walls.
Shapes of Safavid pottery
The most common shape for Safavid dishes throughout the 17th century is based on form “c”: A flat rim linked with the cavetto by a soft curve ranging in diameter from 20cm to 50cm.
The form varies within Safavid production in terms of the width of the flange, the curvature of the cavetto walls (rounded or gradually curving), and the ratio of height to diameter.
When the everted rim also has a rounded profile, there is an indentation where it rises from the cavetto. The foot-ring tends to be wide compared with the diameter, normally just under half the width of the dish.
Rare in the first half of the 12th century but common in the second half, especially for smaller dishes, are the forms of “b” and “c”. The first has a straight rim (no flange), and the second has a minimal flange (very rare).
It is not clear why Safavid potters chose the dish with everted rim over the rimless dish, as both models were available in the early 17th century.
Diameters range from 20cm to 50cm, the same as the Chinese models. Large dishes predominate in the early period, but some very large dishes also survive from the late 17th century. Smaller dishes occur in large numbers from the second half of the century, particularly in the luster-painted category. A specialty of the Kerman workshop around mid-century was the production of small rectilinear dishes (averaging 19cm in width). We have suggested that these reflect an innovation in dining customs, the serving of numerous appetizers at the beginning of the meal. Most Isfahan dishes measure 34cm to 35cm in diameter.
A few somewhat smaller dishes are known (20cm to 27cm in diameter), but the few larger ones (40cm) are exceptional in other ways and possibly not to be considered within this class. The footring of most dishes from the Isfahan workshop was formed by cutting away a wedge-shaped section, which left a thin wall standing for the ring. A tool was also used to remove a circle of material from the center of the base, forming a depression.
The above is a lightly edited version of a part of a chapter entitled, ‘Safavid Society and the Ceramic Industry’, from a book entitled, ‘Persian Pottery in the First Global Age’,
written by Lisa Golombek, Robert B. Mason, Patricia Proctor and Eileen Reilly, published by BRILL in 2013.
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