Let’s take a trip back today, to when travel was something people did on a regular basis. Our destination is the Cappadocia region of Turkey and a cave they call the “dark church.” I shared this post with you for the first time in January 2015.
They call it “the dark church” because it gets very little natural light. That is a good thing – the dark interior means that the frescoes on the ceiling and walls are still vivid more than a thousand years after they were first painted.
My son spent the third year of his undergraduate degree studying at Yeditepe University in Istanbul. When he wasn’t in class he would use the time to explore Turkey and Europe, taking advantage of budget airlines and budget accommodations. One of the first places he visited was Cappadocia, and he raved so much about it that I knew when I went to Turkey I had to go there, even, as it turned out, if only for a day.
Karanlik Kilise (the Dark Church) is part of the Goreme Open Air Museum, which is a collection of cave dwellings and structures. It is a fascinating place to visit, though if all you are interested in is old cave dwellings you don’t need to pay to go to the museum – Cappadocia has thousands of caves that you can wander into.
Admission to the museum was a reasonable price (almost everything in Turkey is a reasonable price) but to see the Dark Church cost an extra eight Turkish lira, a little less than three dollars. I’m not a big fan of surcharges, and that seemed a bit much given that the museum admission was only 15 lira, but I had read about this dark church online and knew it would be worth the price.
Pictures can convey a bit of what these cave churches are like, but only a bit. It is moving to stand in a place where someone carved a church out of rock a thousand years ago to show their devotion to God, to see the artwork that adorned the walls, faded in many instances but still visible. It couldn’t have been easy, that’s for sure.
Seeing Karanlik Kilise and the other churches in the museum was a reminder that while present day Turkey may be 96% Muslim (and that is a low estimate), the country has a long Christian tradition. The first churches were built in the area in the second century (if my memory serves me correctly). There were people from Cappadocia in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost, which you could argue is the day the Church began. On that day thousands of people from many different countries, who had not seen Jesus in the flesh, accepted the message that was being preached by the apostles and believed that he was the Jewish messiah.
The church in Turkey today is under siege. Persecution starts at the top, with the government working to eradicate the faith from the land, sometimes subtly, sometimes more blatant.
History (and scripture) tells us the church will survive. Places like the dark church, a reminder of more than a thousand years of Christianity in Turkey, are a reminder.