Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Travel Journal (11)--Goreme

The Red Valley near Goreme

My first full day in Cappadocia started in Goreme. The Open-Air Park here is the epicenter of Cappadocian tourism. If visitors are going to see one site in the region, this is it. So, tour buses can be a problem. But Goreme is well worth the trouble--chock full of cave churches and the "fairy chimneys" which typify Cappadocian topography. At Goreme, I visited 8 cave churches: St. Basil's, Apple Church, St. Barbara's, Snake Church, Dark Church, St. Catherine's, Sandal Church and Buckle Church. The frescoes are incredible, ranging from the primitive to the sublime, my favorites being those at Dark Church and Buckle Church.

The 3 Holy Youths--Dark Church

From my first contact with Orthodoxy in Bulgaria in 2003, I have been in awe of the iconography of the churches, where the whole panoply of redemption, from the Garden to the Incarnation and Ascension to the Lives of the Saints to the Judgment, is spread out before the worshipper. [Such things would have been dismissed as "idolatry" in my iconoclastic background. But I came to realize the shallowness of such thought, particularly in light of the fact that we had made the Bible, or rather our particular interpretation of it, into our very own idol.] The cave churches of Cappadocia were no different, being completely covered in frescoes. While I understand that the placement of the frescoes was far from haphazard, it sometimes seemed that the entire story was striving, even jostling, to be told at one and the same time. Maybe this impression of mine hearkens to the concept of Orthodox worship being outside of time and space. I fail to see how one could stand there and soberly contemplate these scenes without, in some sense, being swept up into the saga. This is the whole point, I suppose--that whole "cloud of witnesses" thing, in which we, in imitation, "run with endurance the race that is set before us." (Poorly said and preachy on my part, but hopefully the point is made somewhere within all that!)

St. George and St. Theodore--Snake Church

We spent considerable time in each church, examining the frescoes. And in doing so, I realized something interesting about Turan. My Muslim friend is an expert in deciphering these Christian frescoes. He knows all the stories, being particularly adept in those frescoes depicting the life of Christ and Mary. There was one fresco that stumped him. I jumped at the chance to explain one that I knew and he didn't! This fresco depicted the 3 Holy Youths. I recognized the scene fairly quickly: 3 young men, flames surrounding them, being protected by an angel. I was telling Turan about the story from Daniel and suddenly my mind went blank. All good evangelicals know the story of Shadrach, Meshack and Abednego. We may not have known much about the Trinity, but we sure knew the names of those 3 dudes. Anyway, I could think of Meshack and Abednego, but my mind went blank with the first one. Only hours later, when we were hiking in the mountains, it came to me and I hollered out to Turan, "Shadrach!"

Hiking in the Red Valley

We left the crowds behind at Goreme valley, and drove to the top of a nearby bluff. From here we would walk the trail along the upper ridges of the Red Valley and the Rose Valley, and then descend to the village of Cauvisin, some 6 kilometers away. We stocked up on water, and we each had a bag of assorted nuts and dried fruits which we purchased from a vendor who just happened to have his cart at the beginning of the trail. The scenery was spectacular; reminiscent of a John Ford western. We covered the distance is good time, only stopping to watch an eaglet in a cliff side aerie. We didn't tarry in Cauvisin, where we met up with our driver, but hurried on to Avanos, where lunch awaited.

Buckle Church

Turkish food is quite tasty. I never really tired of the cuisine. Avanos is known for its pottery, and they incorporate this tradition into their dining. A speciality is a stew-like mixture that is baked within a sealed clay vase. The vase is brought to your table, and then with great ceremony, the top is sliced off with a large knife and the steaming mixture poured into bowls. It sure worked for me, as did the baklava for desert.

Sandle Church

After lunch, we strolled down to a pottery factory, a 200-year old family business. Zafer, one of Turan's school chums, was working there now. I have the greatest admiration for such artisans, and love to observe them at work. I watched as one man sat down at the pottery wheel, took a lump of clay, and within a minute or so had created a beautifully-shaped vase. They let me sit down at the pottery wheel for a while. I took a lump of clay, and with a minute or so had created, well, a mis-shapen lump of clay.

Sandle Church

After this, we set out to explore another valley, north of Goreme. Zelve Valley is more low-key, with fewer tourists, but just as interesting. I found it more challenging, as most of the churches are located high up the cliff side. The churches here date from before or during the Iconoclastic Controversy. They are less decorated, in terms of frescoes, but have much more in the way of medallions and crosses. One was known as the Baptistery Church, another the Fish Church and another the Grape Church. There was no doubting the baptistery in the so-named church. It consisted of a large stone trough on the right side of the chapel. A drain was cut into the rock where water could be diverted from a cistern into the baptistery when needed.

St. Onesephorus the Hermit, Dark Church

Our last stop of the day was Pasabag, which offered yet more of the "fairy chimneys" and the rock churches. By this time, I was beginning to "tucker out," as we say, and was more than ready to return to our cave hotel in the village of Ayvali.

Overlooking Pasabag

Buckle Church

Snake Church

Dark Church

Turan and I were both curious about this strange, primitive fresco in the Snake Church. At first glance, it appears to be an insect. But then we notice that it has 4 legs. We could not figure out what exactly it was, or what it represented in this particular setting. In my youth, there was a popular book entitled "Chariots of the Gods." I forget the author's name, but his premise was that aliens were (are) regular visitors to Earth and more or less kick-started civilization. He tried to connect everything that appeared strange in the world to his theory, from ancient Egypt to the Mayas, to the Andean Indians, to Easter Island, etc., etc., etc. He would have just loved this odd fresco and would have somehow tied it in to his alien tale, I suspect.

Snake Church


Mimi said...

Such beautiful iconography, thank you for posting them!

Hilarius said...

Yes, these photos are stunning, John. I find the Sandle Church fresco of the 3 angels meal with Abraham (at least, that is what I think it looks like) really interesting as it seems a relatively early example of this type of Trinitarian icon (although I'm no historian of icons).

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