Hidden Church (Turkish, Saklı Kilise) is a richly-painted, three-aisled church in Soğanlı Valley. The church rests in a cluster of fairy chimneys and is under another small church (Kubbeli Kilise 1). The painting style dates to around 1000 AD. Note that this is not the Hidden (Sakli) Church near El Nazar Church in Göreme.
Hidden Church (along with Kubbeli Kilise) is directly opposite Karabaş Church. To reach the church, park at Canavar Kilise (at the far end of the northern fork), cross the creek, and then walk 500 meters back downstream. The walking path is easily accessible and enjoyable.
Hidden Church is a rare, three-aisled church. The earliest Christian churches were three-aisled basilicas whose central aisle rose above the side aisles. However, Saklı Church is not an early basilica church; rather, it is a later adaption with three small aisles of equal height.
The main aisle is a meter wider than the side aisles. Two ornate pillars on each side divide the room. The carvers fluted the sides with horizontal lines, but painters later filled in these vertical grooves with plaster to flatten the surface and thereby enable the painting of standing saints. Between the pillars, thin arched passageways connect the spaces. A small bench lines the entire church. The middle aisle has two carved tombs and the remains of an ambon (central pulpit). The three apses have a stepped floor, low templon barrier, arched entrance, and attached altar.
The original entrance was from the back of the church, through the narrow narthex. However, after a rock slide covered that entrance, another entrance was carved into the front left corner of the church.
The painting narration in the middle recounted Jesus’ infancy in 10 scenes. These pictures were visible as recently as the 1980s, but now only three half-scenes remain. The Birth Narrative started on the right and has fully disappeared. The Nativity is on the back wall. The upper band on the left portrays the Magi (only two are visible) and the Flight to Egypt (Mary and Jesus sitting on a donkey). The lower band had the Massacre of the Innocents, the Pursuit of Elizabeth, the Killing of Zacharias, and the Presentation at the Temple.
Left (North) Aisle
The upper part of the arched ceiling has two parallel narratives. The upper right side recounts the ministry of John the Baptist—Calling, Standing with Jesus, Preaching, and Baptizing Jesus. Water damage has faded these pictures, except for Calling. The left and central vaults give a prominent place to John the Baptist.
The upper left of the ceiling is dedicated to Jesus’ early ministry. From the back left, the scenes are Cana Wedding, Water to Wine Miracle, Samaritan Women, and Jerusalem Entry.
The lower portion of the dome ceiling features the martyrdom of the apostles. The rare pictures are difficult to discern because of their poor quality, but the written descriptions identify each scene. The narration of Peter’s and Paul’s deaths in Rome around 64 AD starts at the lower front right side. Peter and Paul appear together in four scenes: on trial before Nero, going to prison, in prison, and healing the Emperor’s daughter. The final two scenes (now faded) on the back right side are the apostle Paul going to his execution and then his martyrdom. The narration continues on the opposite side with Peter’s and Andrew’s martyrdoms. (Each is two scenes: going to martyrdom and the actual martyrdom). The final image at the front left is the martyrdom of James.
The 40 Martyrs of Sebaste fill the lower sections, squeezed between the pillars and around the apse entrance. Ten are represented in small icons above the arched entrance into the left apse. The image in the apse is Deesis—Mary and John petitioning Jesus.
Hidden Church is a rare-three aisled cave church. The paintings have suffered severe deterioration over recent decades, but the remaining scenes and unique architecture make it a worthwhile destination.