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The day a 1,500-year-old underground Byzantine church was found in Turkey

ROBERT HARDING PREMIUM
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Unearthed in the central Turkish region of Cappadocia, the unique church contains remarkable frescoes.

It was in February 2016 that archaeologists unearthed a unique rock-carved underground church in Nevsehir, in the central Turkish region of Cappadocia. The church was decorated with never before seen frescoes depicting Jesus’ Ascension, the Final Judgment, Jesus feeding the multitudes, and portraits of saints and prophets.

The discovery, made during excavations and cleaning operations in an underground city recently uncovered as part of an urban project in Nevsehir, is located within a castle that might date back to the 5th century. Authorities expect it will make Cappadocia an even more important pilgrimage center for Orthodox Christians.

ROBERT HARDING PREMIUM/ Gianni Dagli Orti

Semih İstanbulluoğlu, the archaeologist who heads the works for both the underground city and the church, explained that the walls of the church collapsed because of snow and rain, but that they will be fixed as part of the restoration project. Frescoed sections will have to be collected one by one and pieced together.

When uncovered, the church was filled with earth. Ali Aydin, another member of the archaeological team in charge of the Nevsehir discoveries, said that because of the humidity underground the church has to be dried slowly in order to prevent even more damage to the frescoes. “We have stopped work in order to protect the wall paintings and the church. When the weather gets warmer in the spring, we will wait for humidity to evaporate and then we will start removing the earth. Only a few of the paintings have been revealed. Others will emerge when the earth is removed. There are important paintings in the front part of the church showing the crucifixion of Jesus and his Ascension to Heaven. There are also frescoes showing the apostles, the saints, Moses and Elijah.”

Christian pilgrims and tourists have long visited Cappadocia for its famed cone-shaped rock clusters that served as hermitages for early monks. The newly unearthed church is proof that the region’s geography shelters still more hidden treasures of faith.

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