Column Church

Column Church (Turkish, Direkli Kilise) is a monastic church in Ihlara Valley. Large standing figures cover the four massive columns. Attached to several other spacious rooms, Column Church is the largest complex in Ihlara Valley.

Column Church (Ihlara), facade

The church is located in Belisırma village, 100 meters west of the river, immediately along the asphalt road, here on Google Maps. Column Church, and the nearby Bahattın Samanlığı Church, have well-marked signs. The church is not a part of standard tours to Ihlara Valley, so it is often empty and enjoyable to visit.


Complex Layout


Column Church is part of a monastic complex with an irregular layout. The tall, barrel-vaulted space was two stories tall, as indicated by the two stacked apses. The indentations on the side walls supported lumber beams to hold up the floor. The second floor and corner staircase were carved as later additions. Cappadocian carvers usually extended spaces farther back into the living rock, not upwards. Here, they sought to use the direct lighting and add to the formal space. The original entrance, now blocked by rocks, was the middle arch.

Column Church (Ihlara), main hall

Two other rooms extend from the hall’s side wall. The opening in the back right corner leads to the four religious spaces: narthex, burial room, side chapel, and main church.

Architecture


Column Church is named after the four massive columns that uphold the towering dome overhead. The pillars are slightly octagonal, with a different pattern on each surface between the standing figures. The tall, thick pillars make the interior feel abnormally narrow and tall. The nave has narrow chambers, not a unified space. The apse’s soaring height adds to the disorienting shape.

The flat dome has small pendentive transitions and measures 1.5 meters across. The cross arms have tall barrel vaults while the corner bays have flat ceilings. The entire ceiling was plastered but never painted.

Column Church (Ihlara), nave and left apse

The three apses have thick templon barriers, attached altars with seating on one side, and molding that separates the conch. The church’s prothesis niche for Eucharist elements faces the nave (not the sanctuary).


The dedication inscription along the apse cornice (molding) reads, “This church was built during Basil and Constantine [the 8th], for the prosperity and forgiveness of your servant, Isaac.” The famous Basil II, and his younger brother Constantine VIII, ruled between 976–1025.


A small side-church sits next to the main church. The barrel-vaulted nave has three entrances, a large apse, a burial niche, and 10 floor graves. No evidence of painting remains. The only painting was geometric lines. The unusual conch image contains a circle with three chains supporting incense lamps.


Painting


The first artist, working around 1020AD, plastered the entire church but managed to paint only two of the apses. The saints on the columns and walls, painted decades later, are of a different artistic style. They appear mostly on the northern half, closer to the triple-arch upper window, for better visibility.

The original artwork in the apse is detailed and complex. The artists used layers of color to produce realistic faces and garments. The shading, outlines, and drapery reveal a seasoned artist.

Column Church (Ihlara), Sergios and Bacchus

A later artist who completed the columns used stark tones and dark colors for contrast. The saints, mostly military figures, stand inside thick red frames. The painting program has no narrative elements but, rather, unrelated standing images. The columns’ tall vertical surfaces are ideal for upright panels. Horizontal scenes could have been covered on the outer walls but they remain unpainted.


The image below identifies all the paintings, which include a significant number of military saints and female saints. Unique panel icon images include Basil the Great and Anna (labeled “the mother of the mother of God”). Sts. George and Theodore each appear twice.


© 2019 Jason Borges

photo credits

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