Early Christianity in Turkey: Slide Annotations

1. Scenic View of Ankara

Ankara, whose first name, Ankuwash, was given it by the Hittites before 1200 B.C., has served as the capital of Turkey since 1923. Augustus Caesar annexed it to Rome in 25 B.C. as Ankyra. Its location at the intersection of the north-south and east-west trade routes allowed it to prosper and become one of the major cities of the eastern Roman Empire. Though there is no actual proof that Peter or Paul passed through Ankara, Christian lore reports that both men visited the city. Acts 16:6 does record that Paul traveled through Galatia, a term which usually refers to the upland area of Asia Minor around Ankara. ("Now when they had gone throughout Phrygia and the region of Galatia, and were forbidden of the Holy Ghost to preach the word in Asia. . . ") Paul addressed his New Testament Letter to the Galatians, presumably, to people in this region, thus presupposing an acquaintance with those people. A Church of St. Paul stood in the Kecioren district of Ankara until the end of the 19th century.


2. The Augustus Temple of Ankara

One of the most interesting sites to visit in Ankara is the Augustus Temple, which citizens reconstructed from an earlier temple in tribute to Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus, who had allowed the city to remain semi-independent of Roman rule. Caesar Augustus is best known to Christians as the emperor whose decree of taxation resulted in Joseph’s journey from Galilee to Bethlehem, where his wife Mary gave birth to Jesus:

"And it came to pass in those days that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed." (Luke 2:1)


3. The Augustus Temple of Ankara: Explanatory Marker

A marker near the temple gives an artist’s rendering of the temple as it would have looked during the times of Caesar Augustus. Beside this "Reconstruction Drawing of Temple" is the following explanatory account:

This temple is of great importance with the inscriptions referring to the deeds of Augustus. The inscriptions referring to the same deeds written in Latin are found on Psidia an Tiochia in Valvac while the Greek version was on Phrygian Apollonia in Uluborlo. The inscriptions on this temple are the best preserved bilingual texts quoted from the ruler’s speeches. The speeches delivered by Augustus himself are known as "Index Rerum Gestarum" and have been inscribed bilingually, in Greek and Latin, on the walls known to be "Monumentum Ankyranum." The inscriptions in Latin appear on the internal surface of the pronaos while the Greek versions take place on the southwest external surface of the Naos just after the disappearance of the ruler (sic).

In the early Christian era the temple has been changed into a basilic and three windows have been annexed on the south wall of the cella with a cryptos beyond the naos. In ensuing years, when Ankara was conquered by the Seljuks in the 11th century A.D., a mosque called "Haci Bayram" was built nearby the northwest complex of the temple .The cella, pronaos, and the temple have survived though the northwest wall of the cella was destroyed in 1834.

The first systematical studies have been carried out by C. H. Texier, G. Perrot, M. Schede, D. Krencker, and the complementary excavations were carried on by Dr. Hamit Z. Kosay in the 1930’es ."


4. Census Wall, Augustus Temple of Ankara

"The walls of the temple carry--almost intact--in Latin and Greek the official account of Caesar Augustus’s accomplishments" (Anna G. Edmonds, Turkey’s Religious Sites 185). A similar inscription had once been inscribed in bronze on Augustus’s tomb in Rome, but had been "lost to the world" (Edmonds 185) until Flemish Ambassador Ogier de Busbecq stumbled upon it, recognized it for what it was, and recorded it in 1555. The wall is of vital significance to Biblical history because "it is one of the few surviving contemporary records of the Roman Empire that confirms the events reported in the Bible: It states that Caesar Augustus ordered the census that is a reference for the date of the birth of Christ" (Edmonds 185).


5. Ruins of Roman Baths in Ankara

The ancient ruins of Ankara’s Roman Baths offer a stark contrast to the modern skyscrapers in the background. " A present day visitor can easily see the layout of the 3rd-century baths, along with much of the Roman water system. Constructed on an ancient city mound, the baths’ lowest layers date back to Phrygian times (8th to 6th centuries B.C.). The baths included the standard Roman facilities : the apoditerium (dressing room), frigidarium (cold room), tepidarium (warm room), and the caldrium (hot room). There is some evidence of Seljuk construction above the Roman, and indeed the Ottomans adopted the Roman baths system, which is known today as the Turkish bath. A column-lined street once extended from the Temple of Augustus and Rome past the baths" (Tom Brosnahan and Pat Yale, Turkey: A Lonely Planet Travel Survival Kit 522).

A Roman citizen, the apostle Paul may have walked along this street or even visited these baths on his journeys through Galatia.


6. The Citadel (Hisar)

"The seventh century citadel above the city is one of the best surviving Byzantine forts. While it may have been built about 630 A.D., many much older columns, capitals, and inscriptions were used on it. The west, south, and east curtain walls are punctuated with many pentagonal towers. On the south wall (the least protected side) several crosses are visible. Perhaps the builders hoped that those would help in the defense of the fortress. The Church of St. Mary of the Armenians used to stand north of the city and north of Cubuk Su. It was a twelfth century building which replaced an ancient pagan temple. Legend said that Paul visited it. Members of the British community living in Ankara were buried there. The church had been destroyed before 1933" (Everett C. Blake and Anna G. Edmonds, Biblical Sites in Turkey 80).


7. The Citadel (Hisar)

"The imposing fortress just up the hill from the museum took its present form in the 9th century with the construction of the outer walls by the Byzantine emperor Michael II. The earlier inner walls date from the 7th century. In addition to the previously mentioned crosses, all sorts of materials, from "broken column drums to bits of marble statuary and inscribed lintels, have been incorporated in the mighty walls over the ages" (Tom Brosnahan and Yale, Turkey: A Lonely Planet Travel Survival Kit 520-521). The more adventurous tourist can wander into the village following any path that leads higher and will eventually arrive at a flight of concrete stairs on the right leading to the eastern Tower of the Citadel (Sark Kulsei). The panoramic views of Ankara from this vantage point make the slippery and somewhat treacherous climb worthwhile.


8. Cappadocia: View at Uchisar

The unique geological formations of the territory known as Cappadocia startle and delight tourists to the region. Comprising the area between the central Anatolian cities of Aksaray, Nigde, Nevsehir, and Kayseri, Cappadocia offers a dreamlike landscape shaped by millions of years of volcanic activity and erosion. "The peak of the natural formations of Cappadocia is without any doubt the Fortress of Uchisar" (Mehmet Cuhadar, Cappadocia 90). The fortress is actually two gigantic rocks which are surrounded by masses of smaller rocks that resemble towers. The name is a fitting one, for throughout the ages the region of Cappadocia has served as a fortress and refuge for those seeking to avoid persecution, including early Christians who escaped their enemies by hiding amidst these fantastic geological formations.


9. Cappadocia: The Open-Air Museum at Goreme

In addition to Uchisar, other unusual towns southwest of Kayseri include Urgup, Goreme, and Avcilar. Like Uchisar, these areas are famous for their troglodyte dwellings. The following passage from Biblical Sites in Turkey describes the area:

Remains of early churches can be seen, complicated rooms hollowed out of the cones of volcanic ash. Several hundred churches are in this area, some of which are decorated with scratched frescoes depicting scenes from the Bible or the Apocrypha. Many of them reflect the architect’s familiarity with conventional Byzantine buildings. . . .

false columns and vaulting have been carved into the tuff. . . . The intent then was to recall for the residents their associations with freestanding sanctuaries and the symbolism of the cross and the heavenly dome. For us today the columns that now hang and the arches that end in midair create also a sense of the illusive and the lavish along with their witness to the ravages of time.

This area was most highly populated during the eighth and ninth centuries though there were probably Christians living here from the first century on. (78).

Goreme is one of the oldest sites in this region. The Open-Air Museum at Goreme offers the visitor a firsthand opportunity to visit a multitude of churches, some of whose frescoes are remarkably well preserved. Slides 10-21 will include examples of the amazing artwork found on the ceilings, arches, and walls of churches at Goreme and nearby communities.


10. Preliminary Sketches for Uncompleted Frecoes, Unnamed Church, Goreme

For reasons lost in the centuries, this fresco was never finished, but the preliminary drawings give today’s visitor a good idea of how the artwork gradually took shape.


11. Elmali Church (Apple Church) Fresco

The figure of Jesus Christ at the central dome, which is supported by four columns, is framed by four pendentives (overhanging, triangular sections of vaulting between the rim of a dome and each adjacent pair of arches that support it). The church is also famous for its depiction of the Ascension, with each disciple’s face carefully drawn to express his individual character.


12. Cavusin Church Wall Fresco

The Church of St. John the Baptist in Cavusin, one of the oldest churches of this region, depicts scenes of the feast of Herod, the dance of Salome, and the decapitation of John the Baptist. It is also the church where the hand and holy belongings of St. Jerome are kept. It is elaborately decorated, a sign of its importance during the Byzantine area.


13. Eglise de Marie (Church of Mary) Frescoes

These frescoes are unusually well preserved, with the figures of Christ and the Saints being undefaced. Invading armies often scratched out eyes or faces altogether as a sign of their Iconoclastic disapproval of the portrayal of human figures in religious art (a practice they saw as setting up false gods).


14. Eglise de St. Vierge Frescoes

These are further examples of remarkably well preserved art. Often, if their enemies didn’t get them, the elements did. It is not unusual for entire blocks of the soft volcanic structures to slide downhill to their destruction. Sadly, because of the fragile nature and far-flung locations of the formations, little effort is made to attempt to preserve them at the present time.


15. The Serpent Church (Eglise au Serpent) Frescoes

This church gets its name from the dragon killed by Georgius and Theodorus, famous Cappadocian saints. The scene is depicted at the left of the entrance. Other heroes of Christianity portrayed are the Emperor Constantine, who was the first Roman Emperor to convert to Christianity, and his mother, Helen, who is believed to have discovered the original cross of the crucifixion in the Holy Land. The emperor and his mother are favorite subjects of Cappadocian artists.


16. The Dark Church (Karanlik Kilise)

"The Dark Church and convent complex is the most famous establishment among the pillared churches of the Goreme Open Air Museum" (Mehmet Cuhadar, Cappadocia, 71). The church, which has just recently been reopened after extensive restoration, is so named because it had few windows. Fortunately, the lack of light preserved the intense color of its frescoes, which are extensive and beautiful. The central scene depicts Jesus Christ surrounded by angels and saints. The angels are in medals and the saints in penditives.


17. Pillar of the Dark Church

The Dark Church is believed to be the first of the pillared churches built in this museum area. Most researchers think that the same person who built it also built the Emali and Carikli churches because of a number of similarities in style among the three.


18-21. Frescoes of the Dark Church

Among the many famous frescoes found in this church are scenes depicting the three young men thrown into the fire by Nebuchadnezzar (18), the Last Supper (19), the betrayal of Judas (20), and the crucifixion of Christ (21).



22. The Girls’ Monastery in Goreme

The enormous cave-riddled rock formation just inside the entrance of the Goreme Open Air Museum was indeed a girls’ monastery. The four floors of rock found here yield evidences of churches, refectories, and tunnels. There is even a metal staircase which leads to a dining hall of sorts, complete with a table carved out of the rock. The second church of this formation, known as the Girls’ Church, has one picture inside, that of Jesus Christ standing.


23. Exterior of the Church of El Nazar

This tenth century church, one of the most interesting of the region, is carved from a rock which resembles a tent. In spite of the ravages of time and erosion, which have caused its side walls to collapse, the paintings within are well preserved. Christ ascends to the heavens on a rainbow in the central dome. Many other scenes from the life of Christ, along with depictions of the emperor Constantine and his mother Helen are found on the walls and arches of this amazing church.


24. Tavsanli Kilise Fresco

Visitors to Cappadocia find it easy to spend an entire day walking paths, climbing stairways, and passing through tunnels as they view the incredible eleventh- and twelfth-century frescoes of improbably shaped churches placed in fantastic landscapes. Even not-so-famous churches such as this one yield immense pleasure.


25. General View of the Valley of the Zelve

Less than ten kilometers from Goreme, a second open air museum at Zelve offers still more opportunities to visit churches. Zelve, which once served as a monastic retreat, does not have as many painted churches as Goreme, but the ones it does have are worth visiting.



26. Rock Church of Zelve

Most of the churches of Zelve, which were built during the Iconoclastic Period, are decorated with symbols such as the cross, fish, grapes, and deer. Human figures are infrequent and found only in churches built after the Iconoclastic period.


27. Broken-Off Facade of a Zelve Church

Inhabitants of Zelve carved homes, convents, and churches from the volcanic earth , shelters which protected them from cold in winter and heat in summer. Unfortunately, the same properties which made these formations easy to carve make them easy to crumble. Entire faces of the valley peel away, revealing new interiors hitherto unknown behind them.


28. Cave Dwellings at Zelve

The amazing height of some of the Zelve dwellings astonishes visitors. This cave dwelling is nearly three hundred feet above ground.


29. Cave and Stone Dwellings at Urgup

Urgup, which was called Asian in ancient times, has been an important settlement throughout history. Besides its rock houses carved in the mountains, the area is also known for its stone houses with their attractive facades.


30. Fairy Chimneys near Urgup

Fairy chimneys, the fancifully named rock formations which dot the valley of Urgup and other areas in the region, are the symbols of Cappadocia.


31. Village Scene, Urgup

Several hundred churches are found in the vicinity of Urgup, Goreme, Avcilar, Ortahisar, and UcHIsar, scattered among their troglodyte (prehistoric cave) dwellings.


32. Underground City at Derinkuyu

Like early Christians in Goreme, inhabitants of other areas found refuge by burrowing into the tuff, often to distances thousands of feet below the surface. So far, thirty-six locations where people went underground to escape from invaders have been discovered. Two of the better known, the underground cities at Derinkuyu and at Kaymakli, have recently been opened to tourists. Biblical Sites in Turkey describes the two cities in the following passage:

These also were early Christian centers and must have housed several thousand people in the eighth and ninth centuries. They extend downward in the earth. . . in a maze of tunnels and rooms and were easily defended by blocking the entrance with large rocks. The sheer mechanics of organization, supply, and administration of such communities are staggering. A short, interesting description of life in such a place can be found in Xenephon’s Anabasis. In relating the retreat of the Greek army of ten thousand from Babylon to the Black Sea he described a village in which they were entertained briefly in the winter: " The houses here were underground with a mouth like that of a well, but spacious below; and while entrances were tunneled down for the beasts of burden, the human inhabitants descended by a ladder. . . . It was here also that the village chief instructed them about wrapping small bags round the feet of their horses and beasts of burden when they were going through the snow; for without these bags the animals would sink up to their bellies" (79).


33. Underground City at Derinkuyu

Derinkuyu, formerly called Melengubu, lies 29 kilometers to the south of Neveshir in the Cappadocian region. The underground city here is extensive, encompassing several kilometers and ranging from small rooms to large central areas where citizens could meet to worship, socialize, or discuss community concerns. The graves surrounding the underground city point to the seventh century A.D. as the time of settlement, making Derinkuyu a little older than Kaymakli, which is 9 kilometers away. Although only eight floors of this gigantic complex have been cleaned and opened up to visitors, experts estimate that this underground city consisted of eighteen to twenty floors which extended to a depth of almost 40 meters in the soft tuff rocks of Cappadocia. The seventh floor of Derinkuyu shelters the biggest area, one which is supported by three pillars. There are also a well and a church with a cruciform plan here, and a point of major interest on this floor is a grave room at the end of a narrow tunnel. The careful planning and provision of early believers is evident in the systems they used for ventilation, water supply, storage, and protection. This underground city has approximately 52 chimneys for ventilation and an endless supply of cisterns and storerooms. For protection, large millstone-like rocks normally concealed in crevasses at strategic areas on the sides of passageways could be rolled out along inclined grooves to seal off the passages. The most recent tunneling appears to have been in the tenth century AD, when Christians escaped Arab invaders by burrowing into the earth. It is estimated that, at its peak, 10,000 people could have found shelter in Derinkuyu alone.


34. Church at Derinkuyu

Derinkuyu also has a large monastery church, complete with bell tower and cruciform plan, above ground on the main road just south of the turnoff for the underground city. Unfortunately, there are no external features or adornments such as wall paintings to help determine the exact time of construction.


35. Crosses on the Facade of the Church at Derinkuyu

The repeated use of crosses on the exterior walls of the building establish that, though the time of its construction is uncertain, this was indeed a Christian church.


36. Boys by the Citadel at Kayseri

The Old Testament city of Tubal may be the modern day Kayseri. One local legend holds that one of Noah’s grandsons established a colony here. Known as Caesarea during Roman days, the city has always been an important stop on the Mediterranean-Black Sea trade routes. One of the most prominent remaining Roman edifices is the great black citadel which was built by Emperor Justinian in the sixth century and serves as a shopping bazaar today. The black volcanic stone is undoubtedly the contribution of the nearby volcano Erciyes.


37. Roman Ruins at Ephesus (Efes)

Ancient Ephesus, one of Turkey’s most famous tourist attractions, is also considered by

many the country’s most impressive archeological site. The Lonely Planet describes it as "the best-preserved classical city on the eastern Mediterranean, and among the best places in the world to get a feel for what life was like in Roman times" (341). Turkey’s Religious Sites gives the following description of the ancient city:


Gleaming white with marble, offering a full range of business and entertainment opportunities, Ephesus rivaled Rome in its magnificence. For pagans, the glorious Temple to Diana drew the crowds. Today the marble street where Paul walked and the theater where he faced a rioting mob call forth the most attention. The most important commercial center in western Anatolia, probably over a quarter of a million people lived here at its height in the Roman and early Byzantine Periods. Even its ruins are impressive (144).

Ephesus is the first of the Seven Churches mentioned in the book of Revelation (1:11, 2:1-7). The other six, in order, are: Smyrna, probably present-day Izmir (2:8-11); Pergamum (2:12-17); Thyatira (2:18-29); Sardis (3:1-6); Philadelphia (3:7-13) and Laodicea (3:14-22). The seven cities lie in a loose semicircle and can be visited today in the order listed without much backtracking. At the time John wrote Revelation, each was a two- or three-day trip by horseback from the one preceding it.


38. View of the Celsus Library from Curetes Street in Ephesus

A wide marble street leads to the Library of Celsus, where thousands of parchments and papyri were stored inside a double wall intended to guard against dampness and worms. Roman governor Gaius Julius Celsus Polemaeanus, who loved books, was accorded the unique honor of being buried among them in the vault of this library built in his honor by his son.


39. Theater at Ephesus

In Roman times, before its harbor silted up, visitors usually approached Ephesus from the sea. The first sight of the beautiful marble city must have been overwhelming. The Temple of Artemis, the first in the world to be constructed entirely of marble and one of the seven wonders of the world, dazzled the approaching visitor. To the right of the temple, on the slopes of Mount Pion, sparkling in the brilliant Aegean sun, was the great theater of Ephesus. "Even today, as the theater is being partially restored, one can almost hear the toga-clad audience cheering some hero on the stage or perhaps screaming against Paul" (Everett C. Blake and Anna G. Edmonds,Biblical Sites in Turkey 120).

Paul’s confrontation here in Ephesus with the silversmith Demetrius is described in the New Testament book of Acts. Paul’s preaching that "gods made by human hands are not gods at all" (Acts 19:26) had so enraged Demetrius (and threatened his livelihood, selling silver images of Artemis/Diana) that Demetrius gathered a mob of silversmiths about him. Protesting that Paul’s preaching threatened not only their occupation but also the Temple of the great goddess Diana and her magnificence (Acts 19:27), Demetrius fanned their tempers to a red heat, upon which the mob "rushed with one accord into the theater" (Acts 19:28), where they chanted "Great is Diana of the Ephesians" for about two hours. The city clerk finally was called in to tell the crowd it had legal redress through the courts for their grievances, and the crowd dispersed. Paul, who in II Corinthians 1:8 speaks of a burden that came upon him in Asia that was "too heavy for us to bear, so heavy that we even despaired of life," may be referring to his experiences in Ephesus in the passage. He took the advice of friends and left Ephesus shortly after the silversmiths’ revolt.


40. The Stadium at Ephesus

The Stadium at Ephesus is a horseshoe-shaped structure measuring 230 meters long and 30 meters wide. Originally constructed for sports competitions such as boxing and wrestling, it had by the third and fourth centuries become the scene of popular confrontations between gladiators and wild animals. About the same time, the eastern end of the stadium was converted into an area where Christians were tortured. Later, during the Byzantine Empire, Christians took delight, perhaps even vengeance, in dismantling the Stadium and using its stones to build the citadel, walls, and church atop Ayasoluk Hill known as the St. John Basilica or the Church of St. John.


Biblical Sites in Turkey notes that Paul himself may have fought for his life in the stadium at Ephesus. It points out that the sixteenth chapter of Romans is a series of greetings from Paul which somehow became attached to the book of Romans though it was probably intended for a congregation in Ephesus. The third and fourth verses are a greeting to Priscilla and Aquila, Ephesus tentmakers and fellow Christians who may have worked side by side with him. He calls them "my helpers in Christ Jesus: Who have for my life laid down their own necks. . . ." In I Corinthians 15 Paul writes, "If after the manner of men I fought with beasts at Ephesus, what advantageth it me (what have I gained by it). . . .?" Some scholars interpret the beasts here to be human, but others think they may be literal animals. If so, perhaps Paul was thrown to the lions at Ephesus, and with the help of Priscilla and Aquila, who risked their lives to save him, he managed to escape. (122)


41. Ephesus Museum: Statues of Augustus and Livia

The beautiful Ephesus Museum, located in nearby Selcuk, contains a significant collection of bowls, coins, musical instruments, and other artifacts found in the ruins of Ephesus. The museum also houses an impressive collection of Roman statuary. The statues depicted here are of the Roman Emperor Augustus (31 B.C.-14 A.D.) and his wife Livia. Augustus, the Emperor whose accomplishments are outlined on the wall of the Temple of Augustus in Ankara, issued the decree "that all the world should be taxed" (Luke 2:1) which brought Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem. Hence, Bethlehem became the birthplace of Jesus. The signs of the cross seen on the foreheads of Augustus and Livia were made during the Early Byzantine Empire after the statues had become fragmented.


42. The Home of the Virgin Mary (Meryemana)

On a forested hilltop just south of Ephesus, a small stone house reputed to be the final home of the Virgin Mary has become a spot dear to people of both Christian and Moslem faith. Tradition is that the disciple John, in keeping with Jesus’s instructions to him on the cross to care for Mary (John 19:27), brought Mary to Ephesus after Jesus’ ascension. Although a conflicting tradition holds that Mary died on Mount Zion in Jerusalem, proof of her having lived in Ephesus is convincing: John was there, and logically she would have been with him; the minutes of the Ecumenical Council of 431 A.D. state that four to six years after the death of Jesus, John and Mary came to Ephesus; the same Ecumenical Council, which convened in part to consider whether Mary was the mother of God or of a human being, met in Ephesus, a logical site to investigate her role if Mary had indeed lived there; and several contemporary church historians record that Mary lived in Ephesus. The house, whose long forgotten site was miraculously rediscovered in 1891 by a group relying on the vision of Catherine Emmerich (1774-1824), a German nun who had never left her own village, is particularly sacred to Catholics. Both Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul II have celebrated mass here, confirming church belief in the authenticity of the legend.


43. Baptismal Pool Outside the House of the Virgin Mary

Religious services are commonplace occurrences outside the house of the Virgin, and the baptismal pool is often put to its traditional use. Both Orthodox and Muslim clergy participate in a service each August 15 in honor of Mary’s assumption into heaven which is the major event of the year. To Muslims, Mary is Merymana, Mother Mary, who bore Isa Peygamber, the Prophet Jesus. To Christians, she is Mary, the mother of God.


44. Pursuit Gate, The Church of Saint John, Selcuk

In the book of Revelation, John records the words of Jesus Christ to seven churches, each of which is in Asia, and each about a two-day ride by horseback from the previously mentioned one. The first he addresses is the church at Ephesus, which he scolds for having "left thy first love," or having cooled in their faith (Revelation 2: 1-7).

Possibly John is addressing the congregation of a church which bears his name.

According to the historian Eusibios, St. John came to Anatolia to preach after the apostles were forced to flee Jerusalem and its persecutions. After Paul’s execution in Rome, John became the leader of the Ephesus church and all churches under it. He lived in Ephesus for the remainder of his life and wrote the Gospel of St. John while in residence there. Strong church tradition indicates that he was buried under the central dome of the cathedral that bears his name.

The marble brought from the Stadium at Ephesus where Christians were martyred was used to construct the Pursuit Gate and fortification walls of the Church of St. John. The wall encompasses twenty towers and three gates, of which the Pursuit Gate is the most impressive. The gate and its courtyard have recently been restored as part of a massive project still in progress at the church.


45. Exterior View: The Church of St. John, Selcuk

A view of the surrounding wall and as-yet unrestored portions of the church


46. Restoration in Progress: The Church of St. John, Selcuk

Work on the interior of the church proceeds carefully.


47. Baptistery: Church of St. John, Selcuk

The keyhole-shaped font north of the nave was much used after Constantine declared Christianity the state religion. Crowds who had once flocked to the Temple of Diana now flocked to the cathedral instead. The revolt of Demetrius and his and the silversmiths’ two-hour chant to Diana had been the goddesses’ death knell. Today a stub of a column is all that remains of the once great Temple of Diana.


48. The Tomb of Saint John

The final resting place of the disciple "whom Jesus loved" (John 13:23) is believed to be this spot, once under the central dome of the cathedral, marked today with a marble marker. According to testimony of early church fathers, the Apostle John came to Ephesus to live about 40 A.D., presided from there over the churches in Asia, died a natural death, and was buried where the Church of St. John now stands in Selcuk.


49. Marble Monument at Aphrodisias

This marble monument with its twin crosses, probably part of an ancient tomb, reveals a Christian presence in the area of Aphrodisias. The city is named for Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love (known as Venus to the Romans) and is usually associated with more worldly pursuits. Probably, the piece was carved during Roman times, when the city was home to a famous school for sculptors. They were attracted to the site by the high-grade blue and white marble beds just a little over a mile away at the foot of Babada mountain.


50-51. Views from the Citadel at Pergamum (Bergama)

The first mention of Pergamum is in Xenephon’s account of a meeting he had there with the commander of the Spartans during the Peloponnesian Wars. Later, the area known as the kingdom of Pergamum was bequeathed by Attalus III to the Roman government and became known as the Province of Asia. The city of Pergamum served as a capital for over two hundred years and was still a principal city of the Roman Empire toward the end of the first century A.D., when the book of Revelation was written. Pergamum is one of the Seven Churches mentioned in that book. Revelation 2: 12-13 reads:

And to the angel of the church in Pergamos write; These things saith he which hath the sharp sword with two edges; I know thy works , and where thou dwellest, even where Satan’s seat is. . . .

The reference might be to the altar of Zeus on the citadel. The acropolis at Pergamum, high atop a hill overlooking the surrounding countryside, could easily be pictured as the place where Satan had placed his throne. The reference could also be to Pergamum’s position as one of the major cities of the Roman Empire, and as such, one of the major centers for persecutions of Christians who refused to bow to Caesar.


52. Theater at Pergamum

The largest structure on the Acropolis at Pergamum is the theater, which is built into the hillside and extends upward seventy-eight rows. The steepness of the slope and its seating capacity of twenty thousand people makes it an impressive sight. The theater is known for its almost perfect acoustics, which enable those sitting on the top rows to hear clearly a remark in normal conversational tones made by someone far below in the orchestra pit. Above the theater is the Temple to Trajan and Hadrian, which Greek archaeologists are currently restoring in white marble, and, next to it, the ruins of the small but famous library, which once held 200,000 volumes. The library of Pergamum became so famous Egyptians were afraid it would attract scholars away from their famous library at Alexandria, so they cut off the supply of papyrus to their rival. Eumenes II set his scientists to work looking for a substitute, and the result was the invention of parchment (pergamem is Latin for parchment). Because this writing surface made from animal hides could be written on on both sides, unlike papyrus, parchment soon overtook papyrus as the preferred medium. The Egyptians managed to get the last word, however, when, after the great library at Alexandria burned, Marc Anthony consoled Cleopatra by pillaging the library at Pergamum for books to replace those she had lost in the fire.


53. Acropolis, Pergamum

Acropolis means the fortified citadel of a Greek city, and judging from the ruins of the one at Pergamum, it must have been impressive indeed. The magnificent public buildings atop the acropolis were faced with sparkling white marble, making for an incredible view to those who viewed the city from afar.


54. Red Basillica, Pergamum

The large red basilica located in the lower part of Pergamum (known today as Bergama) was probably a temple dedicated to Serapis and possibly also to Isis and Harpocrates. Later, a raised floor was put in, and the central part was used as a church dedicated to St. John the Apostle. Today one of the towers is used as a mosque.


55. The Exterior of Saint Sophia (Sancta Sophia), Byzantium (Constantinople/


Byzantium, later renamed Constantinople, and today known as Istanbul, is not mentioned in the Bible, though I Peter is addressed to "the strangers scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia," an area which would seem to include the city. An early Byzantine tradition holds that Andrew, the brother of Peter, and one of the twelve disciples, was the "first called" to this area and that, therefore, the See of Byzantium was apostolic in origin.

Byzantium became the capital of the Roman Empire in 330 A.D., when Constantine formally took up residence there. The city was renamed Constantinople in honor of this emperor, who had made Christianity the state religion in 313. The city continued as the capital of the Byzantine Empire until its capture by the Ottomans led by Mehmet II in 1453. It was the site of the greatest church in Christendom, Saint Sophia, The Church of the Divine Wisdom, built between 532 and 537 by the Emperor Justinian. (The name is Sancta Sophia in Latin, Hagia Sofia in Greek, Aya Sofya in Turkish. Though larger, St. Peter’s in Rome was not begun until 1506.)The completed church, which later became a mosque and is now a museum, so impressed Justinian that he exclaimed, "Glory be to God, who hath deemed me worthy to accomplish such a work! Oh, Solomon, I have surpassed thee!" (Everett C. Blake and Anna G. Edmonds, Biblical Sites in Turkey 115).


56. Interior of Saint Sophia

The interior of the great church still fascinates architects today. "There are bigger buildings, and bigger domes, but not without modern construction materials such as reinforced concrete and steel girders. The achievement of the architect is unequaled. The dome, constructed of special hollow bricks made in Rhodes from a light, porous clay, was a daring attempt at the impossible. The sense of air and space in the nave and the apparent lack of support for the dome made the Byzantines gasp in amazement. Indeed, it almost was impossible, because the dome lasted only 11 years before an earthquake brought it down in 559) (Tom Brosnahan and Pat Yale, Turkey: A Lonely Planet Survival Kit 147). "The development of the domed space was probably the major achievement of Byzantine architecture. In contrast to Roman church architecture which focused on the altar, the Byzantine architecture, by use of the dome, focuses upwards and outwards" ( 148).


57. -60. Mosaics of Saint Sophia

Justinian filled the church with beautiful gold-encrusted mosaics. They survived the fierce eighth-century iconoclastic controversy over whether images were to be allowed (based on Exodus 20:4: Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them).

When the Turks took Constantinople, however, the iconoclastic problem again presented itself. Islamic art is not to portray saints, animals, fish, fowl. or anything else with a soul. Thus, the mosaics were unacceptable. Fortunately, Islamic conquerors chose to cover them with plaster rather than totally obliterate them. When the mosque became the museum, Ataturk "recognized that these mosaics were treasures of Christian art that should be shown to the world without Moslem inhibition or concealment" (Lord Kinross and the Editors of the Newsweek Book Division, Hagia Sophia 128). Ataturk hoped that Hagia Sophia would become the symbol of the fusion between the civilizations of East and West rather than the symbol of conflict between the two cultures that it had long been. Accordingly, he authorized Thomas Whittemore, founder of the Byzantine Institute of America, to begin work to restore the covered-up mosaics. The restoration is still in progress.





57. Virgin and Child Mosaic

Created by an anonymous ninth-century artist, this enormous mosaic of the Virgin and Child found in the bema of the apse is "an image of astonishing grandeur and tenderness" (Lord Kincross et al, Hagia Sophia 61). "The vibrant palette of the tiles accentuates the serene beauty of the simply garbed Virgin. . . who appears about to arise from her cushioned throne" (61).


58. Saint Sophia, Constantine IX, and the Empress Zoe Mosaic

The best mosaics are in the southern gallery. The one at the apse end of the south gallery has an interesting history. The Empress Zoe (1028-1050) had three husbands. When her portrait was first done in mosaics, her husband was Romanus III Agyrus, but he died in 1034. She married Michael IV later that year and had Romanus’s portrait taken out and Michael’s put in. Michael didn’t fare much better. When he died, his portrait was removed to make room for the new husband, Constantine IX Monomachus. Luckily for him, he outlived Zoe, so he is the husband pictured with her today.

Christ the Pantocrator (Christ as God) is in the center between the two stiffly posed and elaborately dressed monarchs. Both proffer gifts--Constantine IX, a purse of silver, and Empress Zoe, a bull of privileges.


59. Thirteenth-Century Deesis

Most famous of all the church’s mosaics is the beautiful Deesis (a devotional composition, familiar throughout the Byzantine Empire, which commonly framed the central group of the Last Judgment) which occupies the middle bay of the south gallery. It depicts a traditional theme: Saint John the Baptist, the last prophet of the old dispensation, along with the Virgin Mary, representing the new dispensation, intercede with Christ on behalf of humanity. "Much of the mosaic has vanished, but the three central figures survive, and they are studies in refinement and pathos. . . . A spirit of humanity lights up their sorrowful features, portrayed with a subtlety rarely achieved in mosaic" (Lord Kincross et al, Hagia Sophia 64).


60. Detail of Deesis

The astonishingly lifelike portrayal of Christ makes the Deesis, the latest of all the mosaics in Hagia Sophia, also the finest. "It is the product of a human renaissance that came to full flower only during the last two centuries of the Byzantine Empire’s existence" (Lord Kincross et al, Hagia Sophia 64). "Christ, enthroned in the center, is for all his majesty the embodiment of Christian love and compassion" (64).


61. Frieze from the Gates of Babylon, the Museum of Antiquities, Istanbul

In the Museum of Antiquities (Arkeoloji Muzeleri) near Saint Sophia are a number of incredible artifacts having Biblical significance. Among these are the "gezer calendar," dated tenth century B.C. and the oldest extant bit of Hebrew writing; the stone from the temple in Jerusalem which defined the boundary of the Holy of Holies (in Greek so Gentiles would not risk death by crossing the boundary), and this mosaic taken from the actual walls of Babylon during the reign of Nebuchadnezzar.


62. Chora

The original name (Chora) of this building could be translated as "Church of the Holy Saviour Outside the Walls" or "in the country." Indeed, the first church on this site was outside the walls built by Constantine the Great. But the Church of the Holy Saviour was soon "engulfed by Byzantine urban sprawl. It was enclosed within the walls built by the Emperor Theodosius II in 413, less than 10 years after Constantine. So the Holy Saviour in the Country was ‘in the country’ for about 80 years, and has been ‘in the city’ for 1550 years" (Tom Brosnahan and Pat Yale, Turkey: A Lonely Planet Survival Kit 170). More than just its surroundings changed: for four hundred years, it served as a mosque (Kariye Camii). Today, it is a museum whose Christian mosaics attract visitors from around the world.

"The mosaics are breathtaking, and follow the standard Byzantine order. The first ones are those of the dedication, to Christ and to the Virgin Mary. Then come the offertory ones: Theodore Metochites, builder of the church, offering it to Christ . The two small domes of the inner narthex have portraits of all Christ’s ancestors back to Adam. A series outlines the Virgin Mary’s life, and another Christ’s early years. Yet another series concentrates on Christ’s ministry. Various saints and martyrs fill in the interstices. In the nave are three mosaics: of Christ, of the Virgin as a teacher, and of the Dormition (Assumption) of the Blessed Virgin . . . . The ‘infant’ in the painting is actually Mary’s soul, being held by Jesus while her body lies ‘asleep’ on its bier. South of the nave is the parecclesion, a side chapel built to hold tombs of the church’s founder and his relatives, close friends and associates. The frescoes appropriately deal with the theme of death and resurrection. The striking painting in the apse shows Christ breaking down the gates of Hell and raising Adam and Eve, with saints and kings in attendance" (170).



Sources used for the above annotations:

Blake, Everett C., and Anna G. Edmonds. Biblical Sites in Turkey. 8th edition. Istanbul: 1997.

Brosnahan, Tom, and Pat Yale. Turkey: A Lonely Plant Travel Survival Kit. 5th edition. Hawthorn, Vic. Australia: 1996.

Cimok, Faith. Saint Saviour in Chora. A Turizm Yayinlari. N.P., N.D.

Cuhadar, Mehmet. Cappadocia. Translated by Dr. Dara Colakoglu. Istanbul: Revas, 1997.

Edmonds, Anna G. Turkey’s Religious Sites. Istanbul: Damko, 1997.

Erdemgil, Selahattin. Ephesus. Istanbul: New Turistik Yayinlar A. S., 1986.

Kinross, Lord, and the Editors of the Newsweek Book Division. Hagia Sophia.

Wonders of Man Series. Ed. Joseph L. Gardner. New York: Newsweek, 1978.

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