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St Hieron’s Chapel

Updated: Feb 26, 2020

St. Hieron’s Chapel is a funerary cave church in Göreme with elaborate rock carvings and 50 graves. The fairy chimney church has a formal façade and large burial narthex, but no paintings. This church is named after a third-century martyr from Cappadocia.

St. Hieron’s Chapel, nave and missing apse

St. Hieron’s Chapel is in Göreme, along the road going to Üçhısar. The church is located in a single fairy chimney on the west side of Andromeda Tour agency. This church has multiple other names: Avcılar Church 2a, Tomb of Hieron, and Mausoleum Chapel.

St. Hieron, the Cappadocian Martyr

This burial chapel is named after St. Hieron, a devout Christian from Tyana, Cappadocia (modern Kemirhısar). St. Hieron refused to enter the Roman army to take care of his blind mother and to avoid making sacrifices to the gods (a perfunctory act for all Roman soldiers). Eventually, Hieron was arrested by Roman officials and taken to Melitene (modern Malatya). On the way, Hieron had a vision of a man in white garments saying, “You shall not wage war for an earthly king, but for the Heavenly King you will complete your struggle, and you shall soon come to Him to receive honor and glory.” While in prison, Hieron encouraged other Christian inmates to remain faithful. On November 7, 298AD Hieron was beheaded as one of the “33 Martyrs of Melitene.”

After his martyrdom, Hieron’s hand was cut off and brought to his blind mother, who lived in Göreme. His hand became a relic in a chapel dedicated to him. St. Hieron became a popular “home-town hero” in Cappadocia. For this reason, his icon appears in several other churches: Old Tokalı Church (a large military figure on the left wall), Karanlık Church (the left wall of the burial chamber), and Column Church in Ihlara Valley (standing on a pillar). Maccan, the historical name for Göreme, was the name of Hieron’s mother.

According to legend, St. Hieron’s Tomb is the final resting place for Hieron’s relic. Although Hieron died in 298, the architectural style of this church dates to around 900. Thus, the 600-year gap casts doubt on this historical veracity.

The Church

The cave church known as St. Hieron’s Chapel has 50 graves, so it was obviously used for funerary purposes. The church’s square façade and square entrance (with iron gate) remain intact. Six arcosolia line the front (north) wall, while another five external graves dot the east face.

St. Hieron’s Chapel, facade

The entrance leads to the narthex situated on the north side of the main nave. This room has ornate carving and the church’s only paintings, a triangular pattern in red ochre. The flat middle section of the ceiling has a slanted arched cross trimmed with red paint. The two side sections are barrel-vaulted and undecorated. A large relief arch surmounts the doorway, which has side recesses for a door hanging.

St. Hieron’s Chapel, narthex ceiling

The narthex has 21 graves. The two arcosolia (burial niches) are not centered in the walls – uncharacteristic of the precise carving found elsewhere in this church. Four infant graves are carved into the bench around the church. Ten graves are sunk into the floor, and several more are in each doorway.

The barrel-vaulted nave measures five meters by three meters. The carving is precise, with perfect lines and arches. The side walls were recessed back to create a bench around the nave. The back wall has a single arcosolia. Fourteen other graves dot the floor. On the eastern end of the side walls, two niches (one with a water basin, the other for communion elements) face each other. The south wall has broken away into another triangular room, which is not part of the church.

St. Hieron’s Chapel, nave

The horseshoe-shaped apse is a small step above the bench. Only the altar stump and side walls with niched seats remain. The inside walls of the arch show a tall templon barrier.


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