Shah Cheragh is a religious monument located in Shiraz, the capital of the Fars Province in the southern part of Iran. The story of its founding and its awe-inspiring decoration have made it one of the most popular pilgrimage sites in the country. The combination of these two brilliant elements make it obvious why it is called King of the Light.
This monument houses the tombs of Amir Ahmad and Mir Muhammad, the sons of the 7th Imam, Musa al-Kadhim, and the brothers of the 8th, Imam Reza. Although a mausoleum was first constructed over the site during the 12th century, most of the present structure dates to the late Qajar period and from the time of the Islamic Republic. Shah Cheragh is the third most venerated pilgrimage site in Iran, after the Imam Reza Shrine in Mashhad and the Fatima Masumeh Shrine in Qum.
Shah Cheragh at night with pilgrims. (javier san felipe larrea/ CC BY NC ND 2.0 )
An Unexpected Discovery in a Graveyard
The name Shah Cheragh may be translated as ‘King of the Light’, and is a reference to the circumstances in which the shrine was established. The discovery of the site is attributed to Ayatullah Dastgha’ib, who, according to tradition, used to see, from a distance, a light being emitted from this place. Out of curiosity, Ayatullah Dastgha’ib decided to investigate this source of light, and found out that it was coming from a grave in a graveyard. He began digging, and found a corpse wearing a suit of armor. There was also a ring, with the inscription al-‘Izzatu Lillāh, Ahmad bin Mūsā , which meant “The Pride belongs to God, Ahmad son of Musa”. Thus, it was by this means that the grave of Ahmad was discovered.
Amir Ahmad is recorded to have lived during the 9th century, and was one of Imam Reza’s 17 brothers. In 835 AD, Ahmad came to the city of Shiraz, in order to escape from the persecution of the Shiites by the Sunni Abbasid Caliphate. It was in this city that Ahmad died, perhaps murdered by his persecutors. Therefore, it was here that Ahmad was buried, though the first mausoleum over his grave was built during the 12th century. This monument, which consisted of a tomb chamber, a dome, and a colonnaded porch, was built by Amir Muqarrab al-din Badr al-din, the chief minister of Atabeg Abū Sa’id Zangi, who belonged to the Zengid Dynasty, which was in power to the west of Persia.
The spectacular Shah Cheragh ( CC by SA 4.0 )
Repairing and Enhancing the Monument
During the 14th century, a major project on the monument was commissioned by Queen Tash Khatun, the mother of Shah Abu Ishaq Inju, the last ruler of the Injuid Dynasty. Between the years 1344 and 1349, repairs were carried out, and extensions were made to the monument. These additions included a hall of audience, a college, and a tomb for the queen herself. In addition, a unique Quran was also presented to the monument. Whilst the structures set up by the queen are no longer in existence, the Quran that she presented has been preserved, and is today housed in the Pars Museum in Shiraz.
Mausoleum of Shah Cheragh, Shiraz, Iran. (Diego Delso/ CC BY SA )
More repairs were carried out during the 16th century. In 1588, for example, a strong earthquake demolished half of the structure, thus necessitating major repairs. In the following centuries, the monument has been damaged by both man and nature, though repairs were made from time to time. Further additions and improvements were made as well. In 1827, for instance, the Qajar ruler, Fath Ali Shah Qajar, presented an ornamental railing for the tomb. In 1958, the original dome was removed, due to the numerous cracks on it. This was replaced by an iron structure in the shape of the original dome, which is lighter, and expected to last longer.
Extensive mirror-work under a dome. (David Holt/ CC BY SA 2.0 )