Meskendir Church is a cave church deep in Red Valley with elegant carvings and elaborate red painting. The spacious church, built around 1000 AD, is part of a monastery complex that overlooks the valley floor.
Finding the church is difficult. From Çavuşin, walk southward up Red Valley. Continue past the Rose and Red Valley routes and continue straight for one kilometer. The church is on the left, twenty meters up the cliffside. The GPS coordinates are 38°38′39″ N 34°51′14″ E.
Meskendir Church was part of a larger monastic complex, complete with two churches, two refectory dining halls, and a cooking space.
Immediately the south (right) of the church, a small refectory hall with a side bench, apse, and checkered red trim. The table is now destroyed, but had three relief bosses (rock circles) with painted crosses on the ceiling above. The small basin in the corner perhaps contained the wine drunken at refectory meals. The west portion is collapsed, though the original doorframe remains.
The blackened space after the refectory was a cooking area. The irregular areas has many storage niches, tandir firepits, bread oven, and winepress.
The next space is another refectory hall. A small chapel appears at the end of the rock face. This second church is largely destroyed except for the framed entrance and etched cross above the doorway.
A group of monks lived here in community. They cultivated crops in the valley floor below, resided in cells nearby, and contemplated spiritual matters in this serene context.
The cruciform (cross-shaped) nave has a central dome and three apses. The crisp carving and proper proportions are the work of a master craftsman. The spacious nave measures 7 by 7 meters. The bottom third of the church has eroded due to mud accumulation (seen through the broken wall on the right).
The narthex (entry room) of the church was large, but has mostly eroded away. A large arched Roman cross, cut from the stone, decorated the roof, but only partially remains. The narthex had sophisticated artwork with plastered and painted icons. Two saints on a red background, exposed to the natural elements, are the only remaining paintings. Grave niches appear on both sides.
Considering the size of the cross, this narthex space was extended another 3+ meters to the west. This large size, and the presence the ceiling relief and painted frescos, suggest this narthex was itself the original church. Perhaps after the nave's western portion collapsed into the valley below, the local residents carved the larger cruciform church through its apse.
The nave of the church follows a cruciform pattern—the large central area covered by a dome, and four transepts (arms) extending out. Thickly carved features decorate the side transepts. Three tall blind niches line the walls. A double-pilaster (half-column) extends from the cornice to the barrel vault above. A tall bench lines the interior of the church.
The apse had a full templon wall with windows and a doorway. Only the side portions remain. Multiple square insets detailed the lower portions. The stump of the detached altar has a framed base. The apse had a high synthronon bench, niched central chair, and two side seats, which have arms posts cut from the rock.
The church has two small side apses. They are built off the side transepts, so they are not as deep as the main apse. The south (right) apse has a small rock alter and unique cross print on the conch. A raised water basin appears in the north apse.
A central dome rises 7 meters above the floor. Terraced pendentives, highlighted in red, transition from the four arches to the round center. This stepped pattern, while rudimentary in form, echoes the later Seljuk design for arches above doorways. Four tall keyhole slits (imitating windows) line the drum, which raises the flat ceiling.
Red geometric lines decorate much of the interior. The patterns are precise and detailed. In particular, the four arches are most detailed on the underside and border. The arched ceilings of the transepts have a painted brick pattern. These red lines were the initial painted layer of a church. The master carver highlighted the architectural features to demarcate the room as a sacred space.