Almost as soon as I arrived in Iran this time, I visited my mom's cousin in Tabriz, in the northwestern Iranian province of East Azerbaijan, for the first time. They speak Turkish there, and it was a little strange being in Iran and yet not being able to understand anyone. I could catch a few words here and there, and of course they would speak Persian with me, but it was still a bit strange.
There are numerous churches in this area, and my cousin took me to perhaps the most famous one, St. Stephanos, about a 2.5 hour drive from Tabriz, 16 km west of Jolfa. We drove along the Aras River right along the border of Azerbaijan for a while. We were on Iranian soil when I got a roaming message on my phone. Oh sure, T-Mobile, you don’t recognize any Iranian signal, but as soon as I get close to the border of Azerbaijan, you welcome me to Baku. (You might want to check your GPS, though, because Baku is nowhere near Jolfa.)
Tucked away behind a canyon was the very well-preserved St. Stephanos Monastery, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There are different opinions about the date of construction. I read that it was built in the 9th century, but on a plaque outside the church, it said that many Armenian historian say it was established in the first century by St. Bartholomew. It's surrounded by a fortress with seven towers among a beautiful backdrop of rocky mountains. Each year, on the name day, Armenians visit for a Holy Mass.