According to the tradition of the Armenian Apostolic Church, Saint Thaddeus, also known as Saint Jude, (not to be confused with Judas Iscariot), evangelized the region of Armenia and Persia. Thaddeus suffered martyrdom in Armenia, according to the same tradition, and is revered as an apostle of the Armenian Church. Legend has it that a church dedicated to him was first built on the present site in AD 68.
Little remains of the monastery’s original structure, as it was extensively rebuilt after an earthquake damaged it in 1319. Nevertheless, some of the parts surrounding the altar apse date from the 10th century.
Much of the present structure dates from 1811, when the Qajar prince, Abbas Mirza ordered for its renovation and repairs, later on Simeon, father Superior of the monastery, added a large narthex-like western extension to the church.
The western extension duplicates the design of Etchmiadzin Cathedral, the mother church of the Armenian Apostolic Church. The 19th century additions were constructed from ashlar sandstone. The earliest sections are of black and white stone, hence its Turkic name Qara Kilse, meaning “the Black Church.”
In July 2008, this monastery was added to UNESCO’s World Heritage list, along with two other Armenian monuments in the same province: the Monastery of Saint Stepanos and the Chapel of Dzor dzor.