Sacred Cappadocia. The land of secret cities and monasteries.

Dmitry Ostroumov, 2011
To Saint Basil the Great,
Archbishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia.

Каппадокия, Каппадокийские монастыри, путешествие, святитель Василий Великий
In present-day Turkey, in the east of Asia Minor, close to Armenia, there is an amazing land - Cappadocia. It lies far from modern coastal tourist destinations. It is famous for its extraordinary landscape and its special role in the Christian history. Here, it seems, every stone is imbued with the early Christian spirit. It lives in countless caves with temple complexes and entire cities...
Каппадокия, Каппадокийские монастыри, путешествие, святитель Василий Великий
Once this ancient region was part of the Byzantine Empire. But after the Ottoman Empire formed in 1300, the importance of Cappadocia diminished. In a very short time, this holy land lost most of the monks who once lived here. The last time many monks and Christians in general arrived here was after the conquest of Constantinople by the Crusaders in 1204. Since the 14th century, this land was under the yoke of Muslims. But Christians, mostly Armenians and Greeks, continued to live here until the 1920s.

Not far from Cappadocia, in the east and southwest, there are two volcanoes - Erciyes and Hasan. They define the boundaries of this area. They formed its extraordinary relief and tuff soils. The volcanoes were active only in ancient times, and now this region is one of the calmest in Asia. The land is fertile here. Many small streams fed by melt waters and inter-seasonal rains descend from the tops of volcanoes. Spacious fields reveal amazing views with a unique relief to the horizon.
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Mount Erciyes:
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Probably the most unusual and memorable part of the local landscape are the stone "mushrooms". Their stems are formed from tuff, and their caps are of granite. There are whole canyons of these stones striving for the sky. They are carved by mountain streams and wind. At the foot of these majestic boulders grow olive groves and grapes. In winter, everything seems to be covered with white ash. The Cappadocian plateau rises about 1000 meters above sea level and the snow falls here in winter.
In general, this is a very ancient land. Volcanoes subsided many thousands of years ago and the area became habitable. Once, Cappadocia was one of the most important crossroads of the Ancient World. Trade routes passed here and peoples fought for this territory. Many valiant warriors of different armies fell here. Around 2000 B.C. the Hittite empire was formed here and existed for eight centuries. During this time, Hittites conquered almost the entire eastern Mediterranean and northern Egypt. Later, Phoenicia arose here, just at the time when Jews came from Egypt to the neighboring Canaan.
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Tuff is soft and easily processed, so local people used the rocks as homes. Using simple tools, they could cut out rooms and passages. By the beginning of our era, there were already several cave cities created by different peoples and at different times. At a certain point, the mystery of these cave cities, with their hidden life, was forgotten. They were accidentally rediscovered by archaeologists only in 1907. It turned out that many Christians fleeing persecution found refuge in Cappadocian caves. They created a multitude of secret temples and monasteries here. And it was during the persecution, around the 2nd and 3rd centuries, that the underground cities developed the most.

This was also almost the border of the Roman (and later Byzantine) Empire. Many wars of the 2nd and 3rd centuries between Rome and Persia took place here. In 260, Cappadocia was temporarily taken by the Persians. But the "hidden", "inner" Cappadocia itself was mostly inaccessible to the newcomers. It escaped to the underground cities and labyrinths. Of course, during the wars, the caves deepened even more. Thus, persecution from the Romans and attacks from the East shaped the development of hidden dungeons. In the 7th and 8th centuries, the Muslims attacked, and many Christians fled to Byzantium. But those who did not go found refuge in the same underground cities. By that time, the underground life support system was already developed the best.

In some places, the cave cities could have up to eight floors, which is about 100 meters underground. The cities were connected by complex passages, so that a random person could hardly get out on his own. In case of danger, the entrances to the corridors could be blocked with huge stones. These huge doors could not be opened from the outside. In the middle of each door there was a small hole. Through it, the besieged could observe the attackers and defend themselves with long spears. There were many traps in the narrow passages. One can assume that after some time the Saracens stopped trying to penetrate these caves. The "underground Christians" moved through holes, cracks and labyrinths that looked like burrows. Thus, Christians existed in these dungeons in difficult times.

One of the largest underground cities is Derinkuyu, which means "the deep well". Researchers suggest that up to 50000 people could live there at the same time. About 600 entrances lead into the complex multi-tiered labyrinth. Many of these entrances are in the basements of village houses, carved in the outer rock. Air enters through ventilation shafts. People took water from the underground rivers, cutting special openings to reach them. Constant temperature is from +13 to +15 °C.

The diagram of Derinkuyu
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In these photos there are massive stones with holes in the center, used to close the passages in case of danger.
City "crossroads", passages, manholes and dwellings:
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Today, these caves look empty. But one can imagine them with everyday objects such as clay vessels, fabrics, even some furniture. This way, one can understand how people lived in these seemingly uninhabitable caves. This life was not easy, it was full of hardships and labors. But the Lord took care of His faithful people. Through these temporary sorrows they went straight to the heavenly dwellings.

It is most important that people could not only move and live in these stone holes without the sun, but also fight for their existence for many years. Indeed, it would be simply impossible to live in these labyrinths without God's help. Nothing could prevent this help, neither people nor spiritual enemies. There could be only one hindrance - distrust of God, who cares about the salvation of everyone and sends the best conditions for this, known to Him alone. Thus, one can imagine the spiritual level of the underground Cappadocian Christians. They believed their God and gratefully accepted His will for their lives.

Kaymakli, another underground city, amazes with its intricate multi-storey labyrinths. Its area is about 4 square kilometers. The city consists of living rooms, cattle sheds, cemeteries, churches, warehouses and even wineries. All rooms were carefully thought out. For example, wells were arranged in such a way that their water could not be poisoned from the outside. It was impossible to smoke out the "earth people", for the smoke did not reach the lower floors. It was also impossible to starve them. The shelters were fully adapted for a long life without forays to the surface. Apart from the ventilation system, there were supplies of food, oil and water. The rooms and passages were lightened with oil lamps. Due to the insulating property of tuff, these oil lamps were enough to heat the premises. Archaeologists suggest that up to 10 thousand people lived in the city of Kaymakli. There is evidence that the two largest underground cities were connected by a tunnel.
Not only did Cappadocia give shelter to the Christians in times of persecutions and wars. It also welcomed the icon venerators during the hard period of iconoclasm. Not by chance it turned out to be on the longitude of the Holy Land, and its center - Göreme - on the meridian of Jerusalem. But there was another purpose of this truly God-chosen place. This destiny began in the 4th century, when Christianity gained freedom and became the state religion. Of course, Cappadocia was close to the border of the Empire and the danger of war was always there. But since the 4th century the first lone hermits and monasteries have appeared here, as in other places of Byzantium. At first, monasteries took place in underground cities, and in time they came out.
Каппадокия, Каппадокийские монастыри, путешествие, святитель Василий Великий
Каппадокия, Каппадокийские монастыри, путешествие, святитель Василий Великий
What caused so many people to deprive themselves of quiet life and worldly goods? What led them to retire to caves and impassable places, often devoid of any convenience? It was the zeal of God, inspired by the words of Christ. "If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me" (Matt. 19: 21) Where does the Savior call those who ask Him about perfection? It can only be His own way - through the Crucifixion to the Resurrection. Indeed, there can be no Easter without the Cross. "They crucified themselves for the world," says Abba Dorotheos about true monks. Ideally, every Christian is a monk, because his life is different from the life of the world. "My kingdom is not of this world" (John 18:36), says Christ. Thus, in Cappadocia the monks lived side by side in unanimity with the laymen who renounced the world in spirit. They constituted a single large community from many small ones - families, parishes and monastic groups.

The Gospel by Matthew conveys the words of Christ: "And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life" (Mt 19:29). In the Bible, one can find many quotes about renunciation of the world, but their meaning will always be the same. A person leaving the world does this out of love for God and for this very world. This love is not in caring for the values of the world, but in sympathizing, mourning and pitying it and those in it. "Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends" (John 15:13). These wondrous monks and laymen of Christian Cappadocia "laid down their lives" not only for their friends. Following Christ, they consecrated their lives for the whole world, for the sake of praying for it. And by their prayers, as well as by an endless string of the faithful of the Church, this world still stands. It still gives us the opportunity to enter the open gates of the Ark of Eternity, which originates on earth.

In the first centuries of Christianity, there was no need for such feats. By professing oneself a Christian and following the Gospel, one already became a true monk in the world. In fact, today, we are approaching a similar way of life again. True Christian life, with strictness to oneself and responsibility, is completely different from the life of the world. A person is now an ascetic simply by following Christ. But, of course, there was also the persecution of the faithful. Some even went to the fierce torment for the sake of Christ themselves. There were those who professed themselves Christians, but who did not become martyrs. Such people carried this testimony of faith throughout their lives. When the persecution ended, those who sought perfection freely chose hardships for the sake of Christ. These hardships were self-sacrifice and ascetic life. These ascetics prayed, often with heartache, but in this they were especially close to Christ. They gave their sweat and blood and received the spirit. In their hearts, they were crucified together with the Savior for the sake of love. They were partakers of His sacrifice for the world. Through this, they rejoiced in that "unworldly" joy that the world will never give and is unlikely to understand. For human wisdom, this may seem to be madness. But as the heavens are higher than the earth, thus the wisdom of God is higher than human wisdom.
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There were legions of martyrs, including those who bore bloodless witness of the faith. There were ranks of the righteous. There were hosts of ascetics rushing into the desert to fulfill the Gospel's commandments to the fullest extent possible. This is how the people of the Old Testament, seeking the truth, greeted the Gospel! It is important that for ancient Christians being a Christian meant being a saint, there was no other way. But being a saint does not mean being able to make miracles, levitate or see the future. It means being sanctified by the Blood of Christ, partaking of His holy Church. The liturgical exclamation "Holy things to the holy" applies to all the faithful. But the ancient ascetics did not live with the awareness of being saints. Their hearts were filled with desire for purity of life and perfection. The more holy a person is, the more humility he has. The holy person sees that everything good in him is from God, and only sin is his own. These marvelous ascetics could truly speak with the Apostle Paul: "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me!" (Galatians 2:20).

The state of the official church in Byzantium was another reason for the removal of the monks to Cappadocia and other desert places. With the end of persecution, many careerists and self-interested people entered the church. For them, the priesthood was not a service to God, but a way to a high position. Some of them simply asserted themselves. But some, unfortunately, were those "wolves in sheep's clothing" that Christ warned about. There is an amazing example of Saint John Chrysostom, who tried to avoid ordination. It got to the point that Saint Pachomius the Great forbade his monks to be ordained so that they could be independent of the Byzantine bishops.

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At that time, monastic life developed very rapidly. Saint Pachomius alone had about 7 thousand monks in the monastery he founded. After 100 years there were already 50 thousand.

"Angels are the light for monks, and monastic life is the light for people," said Saint John of the Ladder. This is how the angels – the Cappadocian monks – and the laity of that land coexisted. Thousands of local people were found salvation around the ascetic monks. They experienced the beneficial influence of the monks living next to them. The monastic life was both a moral and spiritual standard for them.

The true believers among the laity also lived according to the monastic principles. They lived by the Gospel. It would be scary and incomprehensible for them to live otherwise. They called themselves Christians, so they were called to live according to Christ! Having known God, they submitted to Him in everything, but it was not fear that moved them, but love and thirst for God. They sacrificed their whole lives to Him. Through what may seem slavery from the outside, they gained true freedom. One can only guess how many known and unknown saints that time brought.

All this is important to understand the very spirit of Cappadocia and its people, their ideals and aspirations. And, accordingly, this better helps to understand the expression of this spirit in art.

Already in the 4th century there were three types of monastic life - a hermitage, a skete and a community. Actually, it was in Cappadocia that the very type of cenobitic monasticism developed.
According to tradition, the Gospel was first brought to Cappadocia by Saint Longinus Centurion, who stood at the Cross of the Savior. There is information about Apostles Peter, Paul, Andrew preaching in Cappadocia. Apostle Thaddeus, called Judas, ordained bishop Theophilus there, founding the first Christian community.

More than a hundred saints glorified Cappadocia. It is interesting that the number of saints is the greatest in places of little use for human life. They usually live outside big cities that dictate a different rhythm of life and values. One can recall the holy monks from the Egyptian deserts or from the mountains of Palestine and Athos. There were saints in the Russian forests and hermits of the 'Northern Thebaid'. Apparently, such conditions create some kind of special inner mood. Nature itself inspires the renunciation of the world and aspiration to Heaven. Very few have the gift of living in the world as in the desert, or the gift of transfiguring this world and its culture. Preserving the purity in the world is very difficult. In the world people are saved rather by serving their neighbor and through this by serving God. They organize the work of God on earth, participating in the building of His Church. Every place has its own way of service and salvation, just as every person has a personal vocation. Cappadocia is among the places more inclined towards a contemplative and ascetic life. Here the relief itself invites one to aspire to the sky. The high stone blocks look as if the earth prays to its Creator. There is the desert and aspiration upwards, asceticism and burning. And the infinite space of the sky covers everything as an image of love which "never fails". Such is the homeland of saints, here there are more than a hundred known saints alone.

We can list the most famous saints who were born in Cappadocia, or lived here for some time. Saint Martyr Longinus, Saint Gregory Thaumaturgus, Saint George the Victory-Bearer. Saint Basil the Great, Saint Gregory of Nyssa, Saint Gregory of Nazianzus. Saint Nina, Equal to the Apostles, Enlightener of Georgia. Saint Sabbas the Sanctified, 40 Martyrs of Sebaste. Venerable Theodosius the Great, Saint Athanasius of Athos, Saint Gerasimus of the Jordan. Saint Arsenios the Cappadocian. Saint Paisios of the Holy Mountain, Saint John the Russian. There are, of course, many others...

The saints are connected without interruption like the links of one chain...
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The rocks and mountains of the Cappadocian landscape resemble a frozen stormy sea. Built inside these rocks are the cave churches. They have strict canonical forms and exquisite proportions, in contrast with many other cave complexes. The builders of other cave churches often used natural voids, only slightly giving them geometric outlines. In total, in Cappadocia and its environs, there are up to 3,000 churches of various sizes. They range from the minuscule to the large ones. There are four-pillared and cross-domed churches. One of the recently discovered basilicas is 12.5 meters high. Among these churches, the most studied are about 600. Early ones date back to the 4th - 5th centuries. They were built according to the simplest designs. There was a square or slightly elongated shape, a domed vault, and a small rectangular altar. Later, the Byzantine cruciform model was adopted for the larger churches. They had domes in the center and on the sides. All the rock temples of Cappadocia are surprisingly harmonious. Their atmosphere is intimate, discreet and cozy. This suggests that they were created to stay a hidden secret that no one will know about. This reflects the words of Christ, "The Kingdom of God is within you".
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Many Cappadocian churches preserved the monolithic altars and templons, prototypes of modern iconostases. In some churches, only the sanctuary is painted, while on the ceiling of the main prayer hall there is a large cross. It symbolizes the enlightenment of the whole world by the light of the Gospel. Indeed, the whole church is a symbol of it. Sculpture and stone carving are on the first, earthly, tangible level, which is the image of cosmos and paradise. Painting is usually in the sanctuary, which represents the spiritual heaven. Such a hierarchy of artistic means teaches us that art is always symbolic, at least in the Church. After all, art is a language that allows people of different cultures to enter the world of the Gospel. Art reveals in color and form what is read or heard during the service. The symbol is intended not to encrypt, but to reveal the spiritual meaning of what is depicted.

A huge carved cross above the main prayer hall of the church:
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Some churches are so small that it is possible to touch the vault with one's raised hand or reach opposite walls with one's arms outstretched. Such churches are often fully painted. The subject-matters of the paintings are rather few. The authors did not just choose the ones related to this or that holiday or saint. They tried to reveal the meaning of the entire Christian teaching in those small paintings. And they did this not by literal retelling, but by means of iconography. They juxtaposed different plots, carving the Word of God in a visual and colorful way. Frescoes cover all the walls and vaults. They convey the very essence of the image, without distracting the viewer by details. To some, this may seem like negligence, roughness, or even naivety. But we should assume that for the authors the carefulness of the image was not the most important. With the utmost concentration they revealed the spirit of what was depicted. They were interested by its essence. Still, these painters mastered not only technology, but also artistic technique. The coloristic accuracy and originality of compositions and lines testify to their skill. But in order not to overshadow the spiritual with the emotional, the Cappadocian masters did not focus on artistry. Each painted temple is rather a breath of the Spirit of God, in whose hand the artist is only an instrument. He tries to humbly convey the Word, and not his own vision. In Cappadocia, the Lord revealed Himself in this way in the language of art. The result is that these murals are breathtaking even for a person who is far from the issues of art. It is impossible to see enough of them and one does not want to leave them. It seems that they testify to that truth, which is precisely what a person often lacks. This is the truth which people consciously or intuitively search for in many different ways.
Каппадокия, Каппадокийские монастыри, путешествие, святитель Василий Великий
Каппадокия, Каппадокийские монастыри, путешествие, святитель Василий Великий
Каппадокия, Каппадокийские монастыри, путешествие, святитель Василий Великий
Каппадокия, Каппадокийские монастыри, путешествие, святитель Василий Великий
Каппадокия, Каппадокийские монастыри, путешествие, святитель Василий Великий
Despite their small size, all cave temples are solemn and monumental. Until now, they preserve the holiness of the Liturgy that took place here. Their dignity was not offended even when the enemies of the Church disfigured the frescoes. Everyone, even a non-believer, cannot but feel the presence of a higher power here - of God and His angels. People who get here have different feelings. It can be awe, fear, love, surprise, a feeling of contact with something unearthly. One way or another, the surrounding atmosphere affects the soul and finds feedback. This is because here in visible, albeit desecrated images, one sees a world to which every soul is called. According to the Fathers of the Church, every soul is Christian in its essence. There can be no other feeling from contact with the Cappadocian temples. It is believed that once an altar is consecrated (and how many of them are here!), an angel of God is assigned to serve it and never departs from it. This is probably why so often Christians who see their shrines in desolation feel such grief...
Каппадокия, Каппадокийские монастыри, путешествие, святитель Василий Великий
Such a multitude of churches confirms that the local Cappadocians lived entirely for the heavenly world. They experienced the events of Christ's earthly life in the Church. The Liturgy reveals the timeless and universal significance of these events in its fullness. Here the Liturgy was celebrated in churches and then went beyond them, sanctifying all life and the surrounding space. Local Christians sanctified all their lives at dawn or at night by offering a thanksgiving sacrifice to the Savior. The Prothesis is Bethlehem and Calvary at the same time. The Altar is the Holy Sepulcher, the place of both Resurrection and Ascension, as well as the contemplative Throne of Heaven. The Temple itself is the entire visible Cosmos and at the same time the Paradise. Once again, the Virgin conceives from the Spirit. The Savior is once again born into the world, Himself being greater than the whole world and holding it. Once again, He speaks the words of truth, Himself being the inexpressible Word of God. Once again He is sacrificed for the whole world, crucified and risen. Once again, He calls upon us: "Take and eat, this is my body". By the presence of Christ, the Liturgy sanctifies all creation, all the world is supported by it. Such many temples in this region tell that the Cappadocians lived by these divine and awe-inspiring events. All earthly cares were also important for them, but the primary factor of their life was the Gospel. It is not for nothing that Saint Basil the Great, who composed the rite of the Liturgy even before Saint John Chrysostom, was from here and preached here. He preserved and maintained a true Christian spirit. For many, Cappadocia was the threshold of the Heavenly Fatherland. In its striving for Christ, it opened the altar gates leading into the Kingdom. By the 11th-12th centuries, the altar barriers had already developed throughout the Empire. The Cappadocian temples also had them. But here the altars still remained open, in the early Christian fashion
Göreme, the center of Cappadocia, is a high hill dotted with many caves. This is a unique complex that combines up to fifty cave churches. The name Göreme translates as "let no one see".
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Dome of one of the churches in Göreme:
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There is everything for life here - churches, cells, refectories, pantries. All the churches are connected by a winding path, broadening in many places and creating platforms. It is easy to imagine the church life on this hill. In most cases it is not known in honor of what holiday, or saint, the altars were consecrated. In guidebooks, they carry names that have taken root over time. For example, Yılanlı Kilise means 'Snake Church'. It has a large fresco where the great martyrs George and Theodore Stratilat, depicted as warriors on horseback, strike a large serpent.
Каппадокия, Каппадокийские монастыри, путешествие, святитель Василий Великий
In Karanlık Kilise, the "Dark Church", there is always semi-darkness indeed. It is carved in the thickness of the rock and the light enters it through one tiny window only. Its bright frescoes, presumably, were specifically painted to be illuminated by oil lamps. This probably created an interesting play of colors, revealing the main scenes and emphasizing the main images. Here there is a unique image of the Resurrection, where Christ conquers hell and tramples the devil. Under this image there is a fresco of Three Holy Children in the Babylonian furnace and an angel, saving them with the dew of the grace of God. It is in direct connection with the upper image of the Savior. Christ leads the Old Testament righteous out of hell - the burning fire of the Void.
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The names of the Saint Basil church or Saint Barbara and Catherine church are more familiar. But these names are also conditional. They are given according to relatively well-preserved murals.

The nearby Saklı Kilise ("Hidden Church") is very interesting too. It was discovered only in 1956, that's why its ancient frescoes have been well preserved. The church is painted in monochrome red and ochre tones. Instead of a dome, it has a flat ceiling with a large cross and arched vaults with images of saints. These are mostly the icons of martyrs and unmercenary healers. There are also the icons of holidays on the side walls. But the main system of paintings consists of a large fresco of the crucifixion with the praying figures. Perhaps this set the choice of saints and of colors, close to red. The Savior sheds His holy blood and with it feeds those who approach Him. He is answered by the hosts of martyrs, who testify with their blood their faithfulness to Him. The martyrs are followed by monks, the venerable fathers. They have revealed the immutable law of spiritual life - "give the blood and receive the spirit"...
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It is believed that the earliest construction in Göreme is the two-story temple El-Nazar. It is carved into the rock, and dates back to the 10th century:
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Its inner dome:
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The Dark Church, the Apple Church and the highest one - Çarıklı Kilise or the Sandal Church - were painted later than others, in the 13th century. They are all similar in color, painting style, faces, dressing, backgrounds, ornaments. It seems that they were painted by the same crew of artists.
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On the stone floor of the Sandal Church there are footprints - hence the name - from the word sandals, not sandalwood. Directly above the footprints, there is a fresco of the Ascension. Researchers believe that the church was dedicated to this particular solemnity. Under the church itself, there is a large refectory carved into the rock. It is decorated with a fresco of the Last Supper.
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The largest and main church in Göreme is Tokalı Kilise, the Church of the Buckle. Most likely it was a cathedral. The unique murals of the 10th-11th centuries are preserved quite well:
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The painting of the Nativity of the Lord:
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The Crucifixion in the sanctuary apse:
Каппадокия, Каппадокийские монастыри, путешествие, святитель Василий Великий
The vault at the entrance to the church. Scenes from the Gospel and selected saints in medallions:
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The 'Eleusa' icon of Theotokos in a small niche in the sanctuary:
Каппадокия, Каппадокийские монастыри, путешествие, святитель Василий Великий
Among the mysteries of Cappadocia, there are specific churches with minimalistic paintings. They are only decorated with red stripes and symbols right on the stone walls and vaults. Such is, for example, Saint Barbara church in the center of Göreme. It is painted with geometric images and the simplest ornaments. In all the textbooks on the history of art, this church is called "iconoclastic". But it dates back to the 10th century, when iconoclasm was anathematized as a heresy for more than two hundred years already! According to Georgi Yudin, it was assumed before that there are only two such churches in Cappadocia - Saint Barbara and Saint Catherine. But over time it became clear that such churches are very many. Today we can say that all the churches of Cappadocia have at least traces of such decorations. In Tokalı Kilise, the largest and most famous church of Göreme, these red stripes and symbols peep through all three different layers of painting. These simple geometric patterns are sometimes applied in red ocher to some interior details. It can be a convex cylinder, emphasizing the silhouette of the entrance portal. It can be a thin horizontal strip along the perimeter of the church, delimiting the wall and the start of the vault. In such cases, this really seems to be a simple decoration. In the same way, small niches in the walls can be highlighted, or small crosses can be painted above the entrance.

Researchers believe that in some churches, these abundant, complicated ornaments contain symbolic information. The system of such signs and symbols is harmonious and developed. Thus, jagged red and white triangles, depicted on pendentives, can represent the Evangelists. Eight vertical "trees" with fiery crowns in the dome symbolize the archangels. And the cross shining with rays in the center of the same dome is Christ. The stripes, "naively" imitating the masonry of the walls and vaults, symbolize the stones of the walls of the Heavenly City. There is a theory that this system of murals has origins in the Roman catacombs and developed during the period of iconoclasm in Cappadocia. Or it can be the fruit of the creativity of neophytes who converted from Islam. They still subconsciously followed the law prohibiting the sacred images. But there is also a refuting question. If so, why during the period of iconoclasm, thousands of monks and laity fled here, to one of the places that were not subject to the emperor? Among them there were not only the venerators of icons, but the icon painters themselves. Was it only to be persecuted again? One way or another, this system of Cappadocian ornamental paintings turned into a special form of symbolic theology. It can even be considered a special way of knowledge of God.

Philosopher Evgenii Troubetzkoy once wrote about the feelings that the ancient temples evoke. He noted that the strict faces of the saints and fingers folded in blessing attract us and stop us at the same time. What is this power of the sacred image, as if saying: "Stop and harken!"? "The icon demands from us that we leave all worldly vulgarity behind the threshold. Until we are free from it, the icon will not speak to us. We should treat it like the highest person, because it is not us looking at the icon, but the icon is looking at us. It would be improper to speak to it first. We must stand and patiently wait for the icon to speak to us."

The same words can be applied to the symbolic Cappadocian frescoes.
In Cappadocia, many cultural traditions have intertwined. It was here that representatives of different peoples of the Empire found refuge. Hence, the wide variety of iconographic styles and techniques. The proximity of Georgia and Armenia also influenced the frescoes of Cappadocia. Many Armenians lived in these very lands too.

In the Ihlara Valley there are several painted cave churches. Their murals stand out sharply from the general Cappadocian style. The researchers attribute the Ihlara murals to a separate eastern group. It is in this valley that the emperor Leo VI the Wise established Armenian settlements.

Ağaçaltı Church, "Church under the Tree", is probably the most famous in Ihlara. It misses the sanctuary part, which broke off and fell into the stream below. The courage and speed of the author's brush are exceptional. The paintings obviously belong to the same time as the building of the church, which is rather an exception. In Ağaçaltı, painting and architecture are highly coordinated. There is a complete agreement between the architect and the icon painter. Or maybe it was the same person? The paintings date back to the 10th century.
Каппадокия, Каппадокийские монастыри, путешествие, святитель Василий Великий
Despite the unfavorable climate and vandalism, the murals are preserved quite well. The technical perfection of these paintings indicates the high professionalism of their creators. The main difficulty of fresco painting is that the artist must start and finish the work on the same day, before the ground is dry. One needs to paint easily and freely, but as soon as the brush starts to go with difficulty, the work must be stopped. At this point, the paint is no longer absorbed and will not be fixed. If something goes wrong, it is impossible to redo the fragment. In such cases, the failed part is cut out, the lime layer is separated from the wall, and a new one is applied. During the day, an experienced mural painter can paint up to 3-4 square meters. If the fresco had to be large, the drawing was divided into several sections. The division was made along the contours of the individual parts of the composition. The seam had to be hardly noticeable and merge with the lines of the drawing. But on many frescoes, "day seams" are visible despite the effort to hide them. In this regard, the fresco technique is one of the most laborious types of painting. It requires skill, creative tension, composure, a confident hand and quick work. The painter has to have a completely clear idea of the entire composition and each of its parts.

The variety of fresco painting styles in Cappadocia is amazing. There were about two dozen different artistic trends here. Each had their own essential features and differences in composition, colors and other techniques. It seems that no other medieval country knew such a variety of art at that time.

Another interesting technique can be seen in the Bahattin Church, also in the Ihlara valley. Apparently, the paintings in this temple were made on a black or dark blue background, which is very rare in church art. The entire interior of the church has a form of a large mandorla. All images seem to be revealed from the mysterious "divine darkness" of God's unknowability and transcendence. This revealing visually opens the way to communion with God. A person plunges into this Divine unknowability, puts aside all worldly cares and ideas, and stands before the mystery of the Divine. Thus, God can open up to their pure heart. And this revelation takes place not at the level of the intellect, or reasoning. It is made possible by the sacred silence of all feelings and thoughts, when the true Light from above is born in this darkness.

An apse in the Bahattin Church:
Каппадокия, Каппадокийские монастыри, путешествие, святитель Василий Великий
The churches were usually painted in the warm season - from May to September. Sometimes the main lines of the sketch were highlighted by cutting them through with a knife. At this stage, the harmony of the connection between architecture and future painting was checked. Some parts of the composition were strengthened or lightened, scales could change. Icons and especially murals form an inseparable whole with the church. They should be subordinate to its architectural design. This is the amazing architectural quality (according to Evgenii Troubetzkoy) of religious painting. Submission to architecture is felt not only in the church as a whole, but also in each individual iconographic plot. Each image has its own special internal architectonics.

Since ancient times, the natural dyes have been produced in Cappadocia itself. Here flows the longest river in Turkey - Kızılırmak, the Red River. The wonderful color of red clay along its banks gave the river its name. Thanks to this oily, red-saturated clay, pottery has been in use here since the time of the Hittites. The same clay, apparently, was also used by ancient artists to create paints. The preparation of paints was long and careful. The necessary dry pigments were ground on clean water, preparing enough mixtures for the whole day. Only the brushes with soft hair were used. Coarse hair destroyed fresh plaster, mixing it with paint and changing color. After the fresco was made, its surface was carefully polished with a wax solution. Over time, under the influence of air, a transparent film was forming on the surface of the fresco, fixing and preserving the pigments. If the wall was well-prepared, the paints could keep their original color for centuries. They could only be destroyed by humidity or unfavorable air composition.
What do we see in Cappadocian temples? This is the reunification of spaces. The world around unites with the spiritual world. Eternity unites with time - and, as a result, time disappears. Its fabric ruptures and the "sacred time" begins. Father Pavel Florensky discusses this issue in his "Philosophy of the Cult". He gives an example of the priest uttering the initial exclamation of the Liturgy. These are the words "Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit…". The priest "breaks" the worldly time by these words and begins the holistic "time" of eternity. The very presence inside the church has the same effect on a person. It is especially true for a church with spherical vaults and with murals. This is already something different from the mundane, different space and different time. The walls themselves are no longer merely the walls. They open up endless spaces of eternity, and this is especially felt being close to these walls. This is already a conceptual space. Being limited from the outside, it contains the entire universe inside by speculation. Walls and vaults surround a person entering the real sphere of another existence - both spiritual and physical. The paintings themselves are subject to this sphere and its circular movements. Manifested in the physical space of the church, this sphere becomes larger than the entire cosmos. It is formed by the frescoes, endless in their semantic meaning. They reveal the timeless meanings of the Gospel story and spiritual themes. The compositions are framed with ornamental patterns, creating visual dynamics. Everything seems to be moving, but the movement is internal, because the compositions themselves are static. In this one can see the opposition of the temporary changing world to the eternal world. This is also a sign of the inner movement of the one who prays, a deep emotional tension that is not subject to time.

The apparent static character of the icon is sometimes perceived as immobility. But the absolute speed is often perceived as immobility as well, for there are no reference points for this speed. External movement cannot express the "being of eternity". But the "moving" ornaments of the Cappadocian temples reflect the movement of the soul. The soul is burning, it flies to God, overcoming time and space themselves. A moving object is still in the reality of space and time. But the images of the saints, the Mother of God and the Savior themselves are motionless. They belong to another world, where there is no decay of time and material space.

The external immobility of iconographic figures is a form of their inner dynamics. Similarly, a person whose thought is working in depth seems to be still. Their body freezes and stops, for all their inner spiritual activity.

The feeling of this unification of spaces is especially clear during the celebration of the Eucharist. The infinite God sanctifies the gifts on the altar, Himself appearing in the Holy Sacrament. Once taking upon Himself human nature, He thus sanctified all matter. The icon itself affirms the dogma of the incarnation of God the Word. During the Liturgy, the saints depicted on the icons stand before God along with all who are praying. Here it is - the unity of the earthly and heavenly, militant and triumphant Church! Man enters into direct communion with the world of eternity, as the Liturgy itself is eternal. Here, in fact, the very sense of time disappears. From an ontological point of view, there is no time during the celebration of the Sacrament. One can imagine such experiences during the Eucharist once celebrated here. Here, the Ascension is at one with the Second Coming, already manifested at the Divine service. Already now the members of the Church stand in fear and trembling awaiting the Judgment. But at the same time they are full of hope and love for Christ, revealed in glory. The whole Gospel is here - in frescoes and in symbols, sanctifying the entire space of the church. All the words of the Savior are spoken from the Cross, which can be seen right here. The people pray at this Cross, partaking in His crucifixion to partake in His Resurrection.

The closeness and openness of the sanctuary further highlight what is happening at the Liturgy. Here, the Mother of God is close to us. There is her Dormition and at the same time the joy of her Assumption and Intercession. As in the Cross of Christ, in the Assumption of the Mother of God there is both death and victory over it.

Here, people clearly felt themselves in a fortress. Not even so much in a physical fortress, although the whole architecture suggests it, but in a spiritual one. The very clarity of the lines and the colors of the frescoes exclude sensual, emotional picturesqueness. They show the uncompromising nature of being in this "fortress" and living in the spirit of the Gospel.
Каппадокия, Каппадокийские монастыри, путешествие, святитель Василий Великий
We do not know who the Cappadocian icon painters were. There is some evidence that Armenians and Greeks painted the churches here. Unfortunately, history has not preserved their names and stories. Many cultural traditions intertwined here - Greek, Armenian, Coptic, Georgian, Syrian. One thing is certain - from the very childhood, local artists were immersed in the outstanding Byzantine culture. This culture laid the foundations for all Orthodox art of later centuries. These artists absorbed the best traditions of the high spiritual school of Byzantium. Without copying it, in their own way they reflected "heaven on earth". Church art is the creativity of the community, it is born from the Liturgy and continues it. Creativity itself is already a kind of sacred action. The icon painter stands before God in prayerful silence. His art becomes a manifestation of theology, like the writings of the holy Cappadocian fathers. According to Saint Basil the Great, "what the narrative word represents through hearing, the pictorial art shows without words through imitation." The creative act itself is seen as a revelation from above, as a supernatural vision revealing the truth. Thus, the artist is regarded as the executor of God's will. The image he creates must detach thoughts from the earth and raise them to heaven. According to the word of the apostle, in the age to come the faithful will see God face to face. The icon is the beginning of this contemplation and prayerful intercession.

At the beginning of the 14th century, Cappadocia became part of the Ottoman Empire. The construction of new cave churches stopped. In 1453, Constantinople fell, and with it collapsed the last hopes of the Cappadocians to restore Byzantine rule. The times of the Ottoman Empire were marked, on the one hand, by relative peace, but on the other, by the gradual impoverishment of church life. Several devastating earthquakes destroyed many churches in the Göreme and Ihlara valleys. The monastics left them. Cave churches were abandoned, partly destroyed, partly repurposed for practical needs.

Only in the 18th and 19th centuries, the Christians of Kayseri, Mustafapaşa and some other cities, were allowed to build some new churches. They were allowed to repaint several existing cave churches, too. In this, the Cappadocians received considerable help from Russia. For example, the Russian Emperors helped to restore and paint the church of Saint Gregory the Theologian in Nazianzos. This is the church that Saint Gregory once built himself.

This important work was interrupted by WWI and the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. The result of its destruction was sad. In 1924, about 250 thousand Greeks were deported from Cappadocia. It was the entire Orthodox population of the region.

The attitude of the Greeks towards this deportation was different in each individual case, for each particular fate. This tragic dualism was well expressed by Saint Arsenios the Cappadocian, the last of the great Cappadocian saints. He was the spiritual father of Saint Paisios of Mount Athos, also a native of Cappadocia. Tradition has preserved the words of Saint Arsenios: "In Greece, you will find your homeland and reunite with your people. But will you find the faith of the Cappadocian Fathers there?"

It is difficult to put together a single picture of the situation of modern Cappadocia and in Turkey as a whole. In Turkey, there is neither hatred nor rejection of Orthodox heritage. Moreover, the position of the cave churches of Cappadocia has undoubtedly improved over the past half century. Photographs from the 1910s and 1920s show that under the Greeks, these churches were in a much more deplorable state than they are now. This was due to the extreme poverty of the local population of Cappadocia. There was also the lack of proper appreciation of the early Christian culture among the Orthodox Greeks themselves. But until the early 20th century, other Orthodox peoples paid little attention to early icon painting and frescoes, too. Thus, in Russia, icons of Andrei Rublev were painted over, frescoes from the time of Theophanos the Greek and Dionysios were knocked down. So, it is unfair to blame the destruction of dozens of Cappadocian churches on the Turks alone.

Still, after the deportation of the Greeks in 1924, many churches were desecrated by illiterate peasants. Later, they were vandalized by the first tourists who began to visit Cappadocia. But this was soon put to an end. The most valuable churches were restored, mainly by the efforts of the Europeans, and placed under protection. But while there are dozens of preserved churches, there are still hundreds of abandoned churches. In the preservation of cultural heritage in Turkey, the Orthodox landmarks are the last on the list. Ottoman and Islamic cultures and Antiquity are in priority.

The 19th century was one of the most difficult periods in relations between Russia and Turkey. Still, the Russian Emperors found opportunities to save Orthodox holy places in Cappadocia. The Russian Archaeological Institute was established in Constantinople. It coordinated the work of Russian restorers in Istanbul, Myra, and Nazianzos. In 1917, this activity was curtailed and never resumed. But recently, Russian archaeologists and art critics travel to Cappadocia more and more often. They come for research, but also because of simple interest in this holy land.

Whatever the position of modern Cappadocia, heavenly Cappadocia always exists. In all its grandeur and glory, it stands before God. Once united, this is an indestructible union. Only when the entire cosmos will be transformed and "God will be all in all," will all the beauty, strength and glory of this wondrous place be revealed. Now we can only say with hope in our hearts - all the saints of the Cappadocian land, pray to God for us!
Каппадокия, Каппадокийские монастыри, путешествие, святитель Василий Великий
The following textual and visual sources were used for this article:
1. Yudin. G. N. Sokrovennaya Kappadokiya [Hidden Cappadocia].
3. Lipovskiy A. Strana chudes Kappadokiya [Cappadocia, the land of wonders]..
4. Shikhachevskiy S. "I know what the Russians need…". Nashe Nasledie [Our Heritage], 2008, № 86.

This text in abbreviated form was first published here.