Karşıbucak Church is a double-nave cave chapel in Göreme with painted crosses, floral designs, and long inscriptions. Natural deterioration and illegal excavations have left this church in poor condition.
The church was carved into the base of a large fairy chimney on the western edge of Göreme, close to Yusuf Koç Church. The entrance is on the eastern side of the fairy chimney that is 20 meters southeast of Nazar Borek & Café.
The dating of the church is uncertain. Noting various aspects of the church, scholars propose dates from the 6th to 10th centuries. The art and architecture suggest sometime around the 800s.
Karşıbucak Church is a double-nave church, with the two rooms connected by a wide arched passageway. The builders included many decorative elements in the architectural form.
The large nave, entered through a burial narthex on the north side, measures five meters by three meters. The barrel-vaulted ceiling is shallow and flat. A tall bench lines the nave. The apse slants left and has been walled off, as the back half eroded away. Faint traces remain of the synthronon bench and templon barrier.
The right (south) wall has three arched niches, backed by a wall, window, and doorway. The left (north) wall has a square entrance and prothesis niche. Three Maltese crosses, each surmounted by an arch and etched into the rock, surround the door. While crosses are typically painted directly onto the rock or cut out in relief, these three are cut as shallow recesses into the wall.
The back half of the church contains nine graves. Two graves in the deep arcosolium in the back wall likely entombed the founding couple, Niketas and Eudoxia. The simple painted image on the arched ceiling recalls Pentecost—Christ in the center dispenses the Holy Spirit (via the red lines) to his disciples. In the center of the nave are three child graves (their children) and four floor graves (for relatives who died later). Illegal excavations in recent years have destroyed and covered the graves.
The second nave is uniquely square in shape (three meters by three meters). The room has a flat roof and a raised bench. The back half contains six parallel graves—four adults in the floor and two children in the side niches. Though walled off as a square, the original space had an apse, still visible from outside the fairy chimney.
The relationship between the two parallel spaces is hard to interpret. Were they used as separate church spaces, or as two parts of a single church? Did the two spaces have different functions—one liturgical and the other burial? Were the churches built together, or was the square room added later? Such are the mysteries of Cappadocian cave churches. The evidence is too limited for definitive answers.
Another room was carved above the church. This burial space with large red crosses is connected to the arcosolium through a shaft.
The artists filled the church with ornate geometric and floral patterns painted in yellow and red hues. A thick layer of white plaster covers the interior, allowing for a complete painting program. The patterns are detailed and repetitive. The artists used tools to measure and sketch the designs before painting. Their markings are still evident in the plaster.
The apse conch features a Maltese cross made from alternating red and yellow tiles. The unpainted white background highlights the small, skinny cross. A bed of vining white and red flowers on a yellow background surrounds the small, skinny cross. The non-figural, geometric designs evoke the scene Christ in Glory.
The ceiling design imitates Grape Church (St. Niketas’ Hermitage, in Red Valley) and St. Stephen (Keşlik). The same (or connected) people painted both churches. A band of braided circles with white cross-shaped flowers borders the vault. The central portion has largely been destroyed but likely had the same design as Grape Church—a bejeweled cross with grapevines and acanthus flowers growing out from the base. The second nave has the same floral design on its flat roof.
Before the church was plastered and painted, the builder carved trimming around, and crosses between, the wall arches. These features, along with the original apse inscription, were painted in ochre red but then covered by the final painting program.
The main (north) aisle of Karşıbucak Church features a large number of written inscriptions along the molding and arches. The red writing was applied to the thick white plaster. The letters are tall and narrow to maximize the space. As with all medieval Greek inscriptions, the author used all capital letters with no punctuation or spaces.
The original dedication runs along the apse arch—"Niketas and Eudoxia with their children, who glorify Christ, the God of power. Make us worthy of your will.” This dedicatory inscription indicates that the church was a family burial place.
The longest inscription runs along the cornice (molding) on both sides of the main nave. The plaster at the edge has fallen away, so only the top half of the letters remain. The words say:
“God is with us, know it, all peoples, and submit to Him, for God is with us. Lend your ear to the end of the earth, for God is with us. In spite of your strength, you will be subject to it, for God is with us. If you regain strength, you will be subject to it again, for God is with us. All the projects that you do, the Lord will ruin them, for God is with us. Every word you say will have no effect on you, for God is with us. The fear you feel will not disturb us, for God is with us. The Lord God will be our sanctuary. He will be our fear, for God is with us. If we trust in him, he will be our holy temple, because God is with us.”
This text comes from the Grand Apodeipnon (Latin, Compline), the liturgical service that Orthodox monks sang after dinner. The service quotes extensively from Isaiah chapters 8-9 and repeats the phrase “God is with us” (Isaiah 8:10), which is also repeated in this inscription. The context and meaning of this prayer is not clear. The prayer may have resulted from political and military uncertainty, the deaths of people buried in the church, or the normal trials of human life.
Additional liturgical prayers (with the same tall, red letters) frame the three arched niches on the right (south) wall. The text above the far left arch (passageway) once said, “Let your hands be stretched out toward the Lord, not in unspeakable and unbearable tears. Intercede with your son, our God; because he listens to the prayers of her mother.” The author confidently petitions God for help. The text above the middle arch is too damaged to read.
The inscription above the right arch is fully preserved. "In the coming of God, we were all getting ready for the wedding with him; for the merciful one owes all to us at present, since he is God, the incorruptible crown.” This refers to Matthew 25:10, the wedding parable read on Holy Tuesdays. (For a complete explanation of the inscriptions, see Maria Xenaki’s article, “Ornement et texte: le cas de l’ensemble funéraire de Karşıbucakà Göreme, Cappadoce.”)
Later farmers used this space as a pigeon house. They walled off the eroded apses and carved a large opening from the south nave.