Holy Apostles' Church

Holy Apostles Church is a painted, double-nave church near Mustafapaşa that dates to the early 900s. The church is called “Holy Apostles” (or “Pentecost Church”) because of the painted icon on the entry porch.

Holy Apostles' Church, facade

The church is located between Urgup and Mustafapaşa, along the Gomeda Valley creek bed, here on Google Maps. From the main road, you drive 500m on a dirt road and hike another 500m along the creek. Then you reach the rock sign pointing to the church. The church is always open.

Architecture

A small, barrel-vaulted porch precedes the church nave. Based on the flattened exterior wall and six apostles on the north side, this was the original size and shape. In the nave, a pillared arcade with four arches links the two aisles. A tall barrel vault springs from a corbelled cornice.

Holy Apostles' Church, nave

The first (north) nave in the main part of the church is one meter longer and wider than the side church (paraekklesion). An unusual room lies between the porch and north apse, connecting into the apse. This secondary space has a horseshoe shape and three arched niches.

Raised two steps, the apse entrance had no templon barrier, though several indentations inside the arch supported the iconostasis screen. With Sts. Constantine and Helena lining the underside, the tall arch extends to the nave molding. The sanctuary had three arched niches—the left one was destroyed for the window and passageway, the middle one expanded back, and the elongated seat on the right features St. Prokopios. The central altar is destroyed.

The church opens directly to the valley and has various neighboring rooms. No burial naves appear inside or near the church.

Painting

Holy Apostles Church has two different sets of paintings, probably completed at different times. The style, color, and even plastering methods differ. The painting style in the nave resembles that of other churches in Göreme (i.e., Ayvalı, Old Tokalı, and Kılıçlar). The same group of artists painted these churches in the early 900s. The style is dark and somber. The other set of paintings—Christ in Glory (apse) and Ascension (narthex/vestibule)—are bold and lively. These two images are better preserved because of their superior plaster mixture.

The narrative program starts at the front right (southeast), then loops around the room in a U-shape. Nine scenes of the birth narrative line the barrel vault: Annunciation, Visitation, Proof of Virginity, Journey to Bethlehem, and Nativity. Then, continuing on the north wall: Magi, Joseph’s Dream, Journey to Egypt, and Presentation in the Temple. The painting on the upper vault has deteriorated, so only the bodies remain in each scene. The two-stepped cornice has alternating geometric patterns.

Scenes of Jesus’ life line the upper wall on the tall spandrels between the arches. On the south wall: Jesus in the Temple at Age 12, Calling of John the Baptism, John and Jesus, and Jesus’ Baptism. On the back wall: Entry to Jerusalem, Betrayal of Judas, and Jesus Before Pilate. On the north wall: Way to the Cross, Crucifixion, Entombment, and Myrrh-Bearers at Jesus’ Tomb.

Though Anastatis is absent, images of Christ’s exaltation are spread about the church. The church’s name, Pentecost, greets people in the narthex vault. Ascension appears on the west (rear) lunette. Then Christ in Glory, depicting Jesus as the sovereign One upon the throne of heaven, occupied the apse conch, but is now damaged.

Holy Apostles' Church, conch scene

A large scene of Christ in Glory occupies the apse. The style parallels nearby Pancarlık Church and was likely the work of the same artist. Inside a triple-diamond mandorla, Christ sits enthroned with the four living creatures of heaven. The hand of God appears above; then two encircled figures represent the sun and moon. The wavy square below Jesus is the sea of glass in heaven, flanked by two bowing angels. The two other bowing figures are the Old Testament prophets Daniel, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, and Isaiah (nearest the window, with the angel extending a hot coal to his lips, cf. Isaiah 6). Above the prophets are two large angels on each side of the conch. Because of the apse’s horseshoe shape, only clergy inside the sanctuary could see these painted figures. A horizontal line and different background divide the apse wall, and 12 Church Fathers stood around the lower portion.

The Porch Inscription

Two lines of black letters line the narthex cornice under the scene of Pentecost. Robert Ousterhout (Visualizaing Community, 261–62) explains the meaning of these words. This was a poem of Gregory of Nazianzus about Jesus calming the storm. In the biblical story (Luke 8:22–25), Jesus sleeps (like humans) and then controls nature (like God); so, Byzantine theologians read this story as proof of Jesus’ two natures. Here at Holy Apostles Church, this poetic retelling of Luke 8 appears underneath Pentecost, not an image of the actual miracle. These words were inscribed inside the prominent Church of St. Basil in Caesarea (Kayseri). Thus, the local artist of this church simply copied the same words to create an association with the main church. The words, though devoid of visual context and filled with mistakes, evoke and bestow status upon this isolated church.


Holy Apostles' Church, porch vault

The visual layout is also creative. The Holy Spirit proceeds from the encircled dove, while Jesus appears on the lunette over the door, enthroned in heaven and flanked by angels. The blue background and tan colors suggest a different artist.

Later Usage

Local Orthodox Christians used the church into the twentieth century, as the graffiti indicates. The cement-like gray layer in the small aisle and side room was probably executed in the 1800s. At this time, they may have added the carved the side room and apse window.

© 2019 Jason Borges

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