Güllü Dere Church 5

Güllü Dere Church 5 is a half-collapsed monastic cave church with an impressive aqua-colored cross in the apse. The church is located just up and behind Ayvalı Church at the top of Rose Valley.


Güllü Dere Church 5, nave and setting

Monastic Context

Güllü Dere Church 5 sits in a heavily-excavated area. This suggests the church belonged to a monastic community. The nearby church of Ayvalı Church (Güllü Dere Church 4) itself had a long history of intervention within the isolated cone, along with two-story rooms immediately to the north and six levels of rooms in the isolated cone to the south.

Güllü Dere Church 5, nearby monks' beds

Even closer to Güllü Dere Church 5, a string of four monastic beds was carved into the same rock outcropping, on the southeast edge. Four arched recesses with raised beds and storage niches run along the rock face. The first (northernmost) bed, the only to survive in full, has an irregular square shape and painted inscription. In the second and fourth recessed arches, graves were later carved into the beds with rock-cut pillows, perhaps for the corpse of the monk who once slept there. Only the arched outline remains from the third bed.


The monastic dormitories in Red Valley are simple rectangular rooms with 5-10 raised beds set in arched recesses. In light of these comparisons, these beds at Güllü Dere Church 5 once formed the interior wall of an enclosed dorter, which has mostly collapsed. The original dormitory had about eight beds and served as a common bedroom, perhaps for nuns.


Güllü Dere Church 5 has no remaining dedicatory inscription to aid our identification; however, the dedicatory inscription at Ayvalı Kilise mentions that the John who founded the Ayvalı Church also built a certain monastery of “Panagia and all [Saints],” which perhaps refers to these rooms at Güllü Dere Church 5.

Architecture

Only a fragment of the nave remains, as the western portion has collapsed. The barrel vault springs from the double-step corbelled cornice, while the south wall has two unadorned arched recesses. The original space measured about four meters in length, which indicates the severity of erosion.

The horseshoe apse had a central arched niched, but no other carved furniture. The side arches break through the painted circle in the conch, indicating that they were later additions.

The peculiar space to the left is hard to interpret, though it is certainly a later addition. Considering the number of hermit beds and cells nearby, this could have functioned as the space of a privileged monk, though this is speculative.

Painting


The ornamental painting program uses an abundance of floral and geometric patterns, but no figural paintings. Dark red and gold tones appear on the white and aqua blue background. At every point, the artist used a flourish of blue tones and flowers set in circles. The symbolic meaning of these two features is unknown, as there is no such comparison in Cappadocia.

Güllü Dere Church 5, painted cross in apse conch

A large cross fills the upper conch of the apse. The Maltese cross, with each arm decorated by fine patterns, sits over and within concentric circles. This design imitates the image of Christ in Glory. Cappadocian painters often depicted the heavenly scene with geometric patterns (e.g., Mezarlık Church in Soğanlı, St. Stephen at Keşlik, St. Sergios in Göreme, etc.). The central cross obviously represents the exalted Jesus, a profound theological interpretation of the crucifixion. Four blue wedges formed by the small orange circle behind the cross represent the four living creatures who stand around Jesus’ throne. A series of 12 encircled flowers (perhaps daisies, each with eight white petals) stands for Jesus’ 12 disciples. A jagged diamond-shaped mandorla—a symbol of heavenly glory—encircles all the figures, exactly as with Christ in Glory.

Below the throne-room mandorla, three more distinct bands integrate geometric and floral patterns. They wrap about the lower apse wall. First, a white-gold-red braid forms large circles with dark flowers inside. Then, a gold band has a pattern of stacked half-circles, each with two-toned blue leaf. The lowest band, preserved only on the south side, is most unique. Blue and red grapevines form round spirals to encircle bunches of blue grapes.

The same banded painting style continues into the nave. However, instead of being encircled like the conch, they stand parallel. A square braided pattern appears under the arch, imitating the standard pattern of a central cross flanked by three encircled prophets on each side. On the nave’s barrel vault, only two bands remain—edge-to-edge diamonds and braided roundels with wavy lines for the background.

Conclusion


Gullu Dere Church 5, though half-collapsed, reveals a unique artistic style and reflects part of the medieval monastic community.

© 2019 Jason Borges

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