Column Church

Column Church in Red Valley is a massive, open cave church with four soaring columns. The ambitious architecture has created one of Cappadocia’s largest and most unique churches. This cruciform church, built around 1000 AD, was used as a community church. The large space and additional rooms fit many people.

This church has many names. Big Cave Church and Mustafa Saçlı Kilise appear in some books. Additionally, “Column Church” is translated into Turkish as both Kolonlu Kilise and Direkli Kilise.

Column Church (Red Valley), facade

Directions


This church is located in Red Valley, about 200 meters past Joachim and Anna Church. The location is correct in Google Maps. To enter the church, you must cross a wooden footbridge. The church is always open and free to enter.


Nave


The main room of the church is the spacious cross-in-square nave. The square room measures 7.5 by 7.5 meters. Four tall pillars rise up to a distant ceiling. The top of the dome is 8.5 meters above ground level. These dimensions make Column Church the largest cruciform cave church in Cappadocia.

Column Church (Red Valley), nave pillars

The four thin pillars divide the room into nine sections. The pillars are positioned towards the corners, creating a large central dome and thin side aisles. Each pillar stands on a large square block whose corners have been carved away to create roosting spaces for pigeons. Cross-shaped capitals with round circles decorate the top of each pillar.


The corner bays have domes while the transepts (side arms) have barrel vaults, all at the same height. The two corner bays in the back have simple conical domes. Meanwhile, the front corner bays have triangular pendentives supporting a ring and round dome. The central dome has a tall, straight drum and flat ceiling.


Apse


The front (east) of the church has three sanctuaries. The central apse had a tall rock templon barrier. The upper crossbar remains. The lower portion was cut into blocks to wall up the back entrance. The apse includes an attached double bench (synthronon) and a massive throne chair for the priest. The deep apse (4 by 3 meters) is subdivided into two parts.

Column Church (Red Valley), apse

The side apses are slightly smaller, but functioned independently, with separate altars and templons. Both have elaborate doorframes leading into a preliminary space before the templon. The deep apses with subdivided spaces are unique features of Column Church.


Paintings


A scant amount of red paint outlines architectural features, especially high up. The church has no remains of plaster or painting. Either the church remained unfinished or the plaster was improperly applied and has detached from the wall.


Back Rooms


The back of the church has several abnormal features. People enter the church from a pigeon room, through a staircase tunnel, and into an irregular burial room. This space has an acrosolium (arched recess tomb in the wall) and recessed floor tomb. This room does not resemble a typical narthex. Except for the wall tomb and detailed doorway, the carving is crude.


Column Church (Red Valley), back room

Another room appears in the back right (southwest) corner. This room resembles the nave of a single-nave, barrel-vaulted church with a full templon. The ceiling consists of ten bent pillars standing upon the cornice (molding). The stepped capitals pinch a circular beam. The result is a pseudo “ribbed vault.” The ribs of this banded barrel vault serve no structural purpose. They whimsically subvert the structure of traditional buildings. Pillars, by definition, are straight and upright, but the Cappadocian landscape liberated artists from typical forms and shapes. Why not create a curved pillar squeezing a round beam? The entire design mocks traditional building practices and foreshadowed the ribbed vaults of Gothic churches in Europe.


The decorated doorway looks like a templon screen—a square doorway with two windows and open space above the architrave (crossbeam). The carving is elaborate and detailed.


Builders in Cappadocia turned existing churches into entry rooms or side rooms for later, larger churches (e.g., Buckle Church, Göreme OAM). This room may have been the initial church; then the apse was opened to create Column Church. However, the entrance to this original church space is difficult to reconstruct, or perhaps this room was added later as a burial area.


The church’s layout has been reshaped by erosion from the creek below and by later pigeon farmers. Therefore, we will never know the original design and layout. Regardless, Column Church is a monumental cruciform cave church in Red Valley, with unique and ambitious architecture.

© 2019 Jason Borges

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