CHRISTIANITY IN CAPPADOCIA
The persecution of Christians ceased under the rule of Emperor Constantine the Great (313-337 A.D.), though it was revived temporarily during the short rule of Emperor Julian II (360-363 A.D.), who wanted to restore the ancient gods and "Hellenism" to the Roman Empire. After the splitting of the Roman Empire into eastern and western parts, Cappadocia was ruled by the Christian emperors of East Rome, which later assumed the name Byzantium.
Under Byzantine rule, Cappadocia was a frontier region subject to frequent raids by Sassanids (Persians), by Arabs and later by Turks. The history of Christianity in the region was influenced by this atmosphere of insecurity. Religious conflicts within Byzantium and the agricultural economy were the other influences which shaped Christianity in this region.
Frequent raids by attacking armies forced Christians to seek refuge in underground cities and practise their religion in camouflaged rock churches. As early as the first century, Christians may have sought refuge in the caves and tunnels carved in the volcanic rocks of Cappadocia.
The borderland atmosphere of Cappadocia meant that local Christianity developed in a secretive and militaristic manner. Secretiveness is reflected in the camouflaged construction of the rock churches. Traces of militarism can be observed in the subjects of the frescoes decorating the churches.
Another factor which forced the Christians of Cappadocia into hiding was the religious disputes within Byzantium.
The development of Christianity in Cappadocia favored the communal existence of monks in monasteries rather than the individual pursuit of spiritual enlightment in secluded hermitages. It is the view of this author that the need for an organized labor force to work agricultural land may have favored the development of monasteries which were productive units as well.
ROCK CHURCHES OF CAPPADOCIA
The oldest churches which can be seen today in Cappadocia were probably built during the 6th century. Several churches were built during the iconoclastic period. The most intense period of church building took place during the 9th to 12th centuries. Construction of rock churches continued under Selcuk rule, which started at the end of the 11th century.
Early churches have very simple plans with single aisles. The single aisle plan prevailed in Cappadocia throughout the centuries. However, other types of plan were also developed. The churches are decorated with attractive frescoes. The architecture and frescoe styles are discussed further on.
How Were the Churches Made?
Churches in Cappadocia are simple structures carved into the rock. The technique of construction has not changed in the region over the centuries. Tuff hardens when it comes in contact with air. However, it is very soft when it is wet. Even today, numerous dwellings are constructed in Cappadocia by carving into wet tuff rocks.
Who Were Their Patrons?
The construction of churches was commi-sioned by military leaders, monks, nuns or rich merchants to fulfill a vow, to express gratitude for having survived a long disease or other adversity, to honor a deceased parent or spouse or simply to pay for their sins. The names of patrons would be written on the church walls. Only two merchant patrons are known, and their names are written on the walls of the Dark Church (Karanlik Kilise) in Goreme.
Some of the military leaders who commissioned churches were obviously in the service of the Selcuk Turks, as they are seen wearing turbans and the title of Emir precedes their name inscribed on the walls. One such inscription is seen on the wall of Kirk Dam Alti Church in Peristrama (Ihlara). Patrons could commission whole churches with frescoes, or all or some of money or could be given in kind. Inscriptions on church walls indicate that fields or trees (sometimes a single tree) could be donated to churches.
Four basic plans can be seen in Cappadocia churches: 1) Single aisle 2) Cruciform, 3) Columned ("Cross-in-square" plan), 4) Transverse vault.
The Single-Aisle Church
The single-aisle is the oldest church plan, dating to the 7th century,and it prevailed in Cappadocia until the 13th century. The best examples can be seen in the Goreme valley. The single-aisle church plan is more common in Cappadocia than in coastal regions, the three-aisled basilica, such as Saint Sophia in Istanbul, being more typical of Byzantine architecture.
The single-aisle scheme suits the needs of tiny rural churches, with small congregations consisting of a few villagers and some monks. However, the small size of village communities was not the only reason why the single-aisle plan was preferred. Otherwise, the existence of a large number of single-aisle churches together in cluster could not be explained.
The simplicity of the single-aisle plan reflects the ultimate reduction in church size while retaining the symbolic values of a church. It was preferred by patrons of limited means who could not afford larger structures, and by individual builders who could undertake the construction of a church on their own.
The Cruciform Church
The church with a cross plan is so pervasive in Cappadocia that some have claimed that it is an invention of this region. However the first cruciform church was commissioned in Istanbul by Emperor Constan-tine and was completed after his death in 337 A.D.
Typical cruciform churches in Cappadocia have four barrel-vaulted arms of equal length. Usually a narthex precedes the entrance. At the end of the east arm there is a horseshoe-shaped arm. Snake Church (Yi-lanh Kilise) in Peristrama Valley is a typical example of the cruciform churches of Cappadocia.
The Columned Church
The so-called columned church was developed in Constantinople and was introduced to Cappadocia by artists who arrived from the capital. The plan consists of a cross-in-square scheme with four columns around a central bay, over which is a raised dome. There are eight more bays in the plan the corner ones being roofed by small cupolas. The arms of the cross are barrel-vaulted. The apse is a niche at the end of the eastern arm of the cross. There are additional niches adjoining cupolas at the corners of the eastern extremity.
The decoration of columned churches, which were constructed in the llth century, represent the most advanced style in Cappadocia. The best-known examples are the Apple (Elmali), Sandal (Cankli) and Dark (Karanlik) churches in Goreme valley.
The Transverse Vault Church
The church with a transverse vault is alien to most Christian lands and very few examples can be seen in Cappadocia. The best known example is the Buckle Church in Goreme, which was one of the most developed and impressive structures in Cappadocia.
In transverse vault churches there is a single barrel vault in a lateral rather than a longitudinal direction. At the eastern end there are three apses, the central one being deeper than the rest.
The source of this type of plan is the pagan temples of Syria and Mesopotamia. The monastic church of Qartamin and the church of Mary Ya'qub Al-Habis at Salah in Syria have similar plans.
Different styles govern the frescoes which decorate Cappadocian churches, varying according to the period when they were executed.
Simple frescoes of the early Christian and iconoclastic period are followed by the frescoes of the archaic period during the 9th and 10th centuries. In the llth centurv, frescoes which reflect Byzantine high art were executed. Some scholars have dubbed these the "new look" frescoes. Relatively simpler frescoes were made during the 13th century.
Early Christian Period
During the early Christian period preceding the lonoclasm, simple symbols related to Christianity were painted. The most prevalent images were crowns of martyrs, deer and fish. Deer symbolize the soul and fish Christ, since one obtains the Greek word for FISH (iktus) when the first letters of the Greek words for JESUS CHRIST SON OF GOD, SAVIOR (lesus Kristos Teo Uisos, Soter) are put together.
The best examples of Early Christian frescoes can be seen in the Zelve valley.
Iconoclastic Period Decorations
In some Cappadocian churches there are very simple decorations usually in red ocher and sometimes in green. These are usually identifed with the iconoclastic period, since they exclude images of Christ, Mary and the saints.
Some of these decorations are abstract designs which can still be seen today on Anatolian craft work such as carpets, kilims or baskets. One such typical design is the triangle. Some of the abstract decorations at the St. Barbara Church in Goreme valley, on the other hand, have been identified as Byzantine military standards or scepters. There are also simple stylised depictions of animals and plants. The dove has always been the symbol of peace and of the Holy Spirit. The peacock symbolized resurrecton. The cock, which is a symbol of the day and of vitality, represents goodness in general. The palm has evolved from the oriental "tree of life'' which is a symbol of vital energy and eternal life.
Simple paintings of abstract designs and of symbolic animals and plants which are usually identified with the Iconoclasm, may not belong to that period at all. Rather, these simple decorations may have been executed by local artists or village people, perhaps by the carver of the church himself in order to sanctify the building before sophisticated painters arrived. If they did not, then the church would remain with the simple paintings executed after construction decorating its walls.
Archaic decorations date approximately from 850 to 950 A.D. During the archaic period, a more or less detailed depiction of Christ adorns the apse. The nave walls are decorated with images of male and female saints at the lower level and with scenes from the life or Christ at the higher level.
Ascetic saints who spent most of their life on earth praying, were shown with open arms. Most other saints have one hand on their breast and hold the cross in the other, emulating the words of Christ: "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me" (Matthew 16:24)
Life-cycle images usually start at the corner where the north wall meets the apse and continue along the south wall via the west wall, ending at the apse and starting again at a lower level, at the same corner where the north wall meets the apse.
The New Look
During the eleventh century, a group of artists arrived in Cappadocia who introduced a more advanced painting style. Such frescoes are seen mainly in the cross-in-square plan churches.
In these churches, the central dome is usually decorated with a picture of Christ and the apse with the Deisis portrait, with Mark and Saint John the Baptist on either side of Christ, asking him to be lenient with sinners. Life-cycle pictures are not complete and only those events which are marked with important feasts are emphasized. Cross-in-square churches are usually decorated with frescoes in the New Look. The Dark Church, Apple Church and Sandal Church in the Goreme Open-Air Museum are the best examples.
Christian monasteries were established in Cappadocia from the 4th century onwards. For purposes of defense and other reasons, monastic communities existed in clusters. In Cappadocia, four such communities have been identified, at .Goreme, Soganli, Ihlara (Peristrama) and at Aciksaray.
According to a decree dated 987 of the Byzantine Emperor Basil II (963-1025), in order to be officially deemed as a monastery a community of monks was required to have at least 8 to 10 members with evident means of support. The minimum age for entering a monastery was fixed at 10 by the Council in Constantinople in 691. This decision was reaffirmed in the 9th century by the Byzantine Emperor Leo the Wise (886-911). Tonsure came at the age of sixteen or seventeen.
Communal existence in monasteries may have developed as a reaction to the asceticism of monks seeking salvation through solitude. According to a decree of Emperor Justinian (527-565), monks could not live alone unless they first spent three years in a community of monks. However, it was possible for monks to sleep outside of the monastery. This may explain the absence of sleeping quarters in most monasteries.
Most monastic complexes consisted of a church, a refectory and storage rooms. The existence of storage rooms was related to the secular functions of the monasteries as agricultural production units.
For the monks, the day started with prayers but was spent in hard physical labor, interspersed with meditation and also the singing of hymns in unison to relieve fatigue. The hymns would reflect the "joy of doing", and the brethren who combined work with prayer, would be imitating the angels who honoured God in the same manner. In fact, monks considered work to be a form of prayer. The day ended with the only meal of the day, and this also started with prayers. Monks received spiritual guidance from their leaders. They led simple lives, renounced personal property and cared for the community. Today, Greek Orthodox monasteries still follow the rules set up several centuries ago in Cappadocia.
WHO BUILT THE CHURCHES?
Churches were built by monks. Architecture was one of the forms of labor which monks were allowed to undertake, others being farming, cobbling, carpentry and blacksmithery. All of these were free from the taint of illicit gain. However, architecture alone allowed the monk to express his faith.
The faith of Cappadocian monks was plain and simple. Their concept of religion was not very sophisticated. Monks became heroes, saints or near saints, not because of their superior knowledge or display of strength, but because in their daily behaviour, they glorified the sufferings caused by hunger, physical discomfort and dirt, which inevitably affected the lives of the inhabitants of this region.