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Cappadocia (Byzantium), Avҫilar, Church of Karşıbecak, Wall Painting

Author(s) : Vasiliou Anastasia (10/16/2003)
Translation : Loumakis Spyridon

For citation: Vasiliou Anastasia, "Cappadocia (Byzantium), Avҫilar, Church of Karşıbecak, Wall Painting ",
Encyclopaedia of the Hellenic World, Asia Minor
URL: <http://www.ehw.gr/l.aspx?id=8594>

Καππαδοκία (Βυζάντιο), Αβτζιλάρ, Ναός Καρσί Μπετζάκ, Ζωγραφικός Διάκοσμος (12/6/2009 v.1) Cappadocia (Byzantium), Avҫilar, Church of Karşıbecak, Wall Painting  (12/15/2009 v.1) 

1. The church of Karşıbecak – present condition

It is a double church, cut on the base of a conical rock, on the site of Karşıbecak at Avҫilar of Cappadocia. The north church is bigger, barrel-vaulted, with an entrance opened on its northern side. On the western side of the nave there is a deep arcosolium. The area of the apse was wider in the first place, but its east end has been destroyed and walled up. The south church is smaller in dimensions and was probably used as a burial chapel. The nave is square, with a flat ceiling, while the apse has not been preserved, since its triumphal arch has been walled up.1

2. Painted decoration – iconographical program

The church of Karşıbecak displays two layers of frescoes, with a probably small chronological distance between them. Both of them bear non figural decoration. The second layer has been applied upon the plaster. In some points, where the plaster has fallen, parts of the first layer of the church decoration have been exposed, painted directly on the rock. Although the church must have been entirely covered with frescoes, only a few of its wall-paintings are still preserved today. These still existing frescoes are found in the area of the bema, on the vault of the nave of the north church and on the flat ceiling of the south chapel.

2.1. First layer of wall-painting

The initial decoration of the church seems to have consisted of crosses and some decorative motives engraved on the rock and painted over with red and at some points with green color. This non-figural decoration directly on the rock appears in many cave churches of Cappadocia and it is believed that it was executed probably by the same craftsmen who had cut the church on the rock. Such initial decoration was often covered up at a later stage, by a layer of plaster functioning as a substratum for the execution of the iconographic programme of the church, as in this case.2

2.2. Second layer of wall-painting

The wall-paintings of this layer have been executed upon a layer of plaster. As far as its present condition allows us to discern, it is a non-figural decoration. At the top of the apse of the northern church a big jeweled cross is depicted in a mandorla. This mandorla is composed by concentric circles and by the aureole that surrounds the cross, whose frame is decorated with chalices with trifoliate flowers, placed near each other at a short distance. Around this central decorative element extends the ground of a repeated cornucopia motif, from which a vine tree grows with bunches of grapes. Below this zone extends another, purely decorative register with heart-shaped motifs.

On the intrados of the triumphal arch the fragment of a wall-painting is preserved, with interlaced circles inside which small crosses are enclosed. The front of the triumphal arch, towards the side of the main nave, run two dedicatory inscriptions – each one corresponds to one of the two layers of painting decoration.

On the barrel vault of the nave of the north church, a big jeweled cross is depicted, like on the apse, on a ground of repetitive cornucopias. This central decorative element is framed by a frieze of Maltese crosses enclosed in interlaced circles. Similar is the decoration of the flat ceiling of the south chapel as well.3

2.3. Iconographic remarks

The theme of the jeweled cross enclosed in a circular aureole, a vision with eschatological and triumphal meaning, implies the redemptive sacrifice of Christ and His presence, as well as a reminding of the Second Coming. Its use for the apse decoration has early Christian origins and is connected with the central meaning that the symbol of the cross, a symbol of salvation and victory of Christ over death, has for the mystery of Holy Liturgy. The repeated motive of cornucopia from which a vine tree with grapes stems refers to the life-giving power of the cross and to the Holy Liturgy.

The theme of the glorified jeweled cross (in a mandorla) survives on the apses of the Cappadocian churches, partly because of the tendency towards non-figural decoration during Iconoclasm, until the 9th century; and is characteristic, among others, of a small group of churches in Cappadocia of the 7th and the early 8th century that according to N. Thierry contitute the “Graeco-oriental” school, in which Karşıbecak is included. In fact, the same theme on the apse appears in Mezarlar altı kilise of Avҫilar and in Saint Stephan at Çemil, which belong as well to the “Graeco-oriental” school, as well as in church 5 of Güllü Dere and in the church of Stylites Niketas at Kizil Çukur. The ground of repeated cornucopias is replaced in other occasions by floral motifs, as for example chalices with trifoliate flowers that surround the crosses of the apse on Mezarlar altı kilise and on Saint Stephan at Çemil, as well as the cross on the ceiling of the narthex of the church of Stylite Niketas at Kizil Çukur.4

3. Dedicatory inscriptions

There are two dedicatory inscriptions on the church of Karşıbecak, which are located on the same spot of the north church: both of them run the front of the triumphal arch to the side of the main nave, and each one belongs to a different layer of wall-paintings, so as the later inscriptions covers the previous one.

The oldest one is an uncial (majuscule) dedicatory inscription and it has been written in red paint on the rock. It is an invocation from which small parts of the beginning and the end are preserved. It has been recorded, however, by Jerphanion, who had published the inscriptions of the monument. The existing at the time of Jerphanion text was transcribed as follows:

+ Νικήτας καὶ Εὐδοκία σὺν τῇ γονῇ βοῶσίν σε Χ(ριστ)ὲ ὁ Θ(εὸς) [τῶν δυ]νάμεων...ξ ... ... ααςιν...βο...λ...σου +

Niketas and Eudokia with (their) daughter are praying to you, oh Christ, the God of Powers... (ἀ)ξ(ίους ἡμ)ᾶς (ποίησον τῆς βουλῆς σου;) [=make as worthy of your will?]

Niketas with his wife Eudokia must have provided the money for the cutting on the rock and the initial decoration of the church of Karşıbecak, since it was not unusual for the craftsmen who cut the church on the rock to add a first, linear non-figural decoration inside the church. Although the large part of the inscription had already been destroyed making it difficult to draw a conclusion, Jerphanion saw on the expression «ὁ Θεὸς τῶν Δυνάμεων» an allusion to the Book of Psalms.

After the walls have been covered with plaster, a second inscription was engraved, at the same spot, which is however preserved in a highly fragmentary condition because of the partial collapse of the plaster. This second inscription is a painted and uncial inscription as well. The surviving text is transcribed as follows:

… νεον … μονα … … Χ(ριστ)ὲ ἀξίου(ς) ἡμᾶς ποίησον τὸ[ν εὔν]οιόν σου(;) απ...

This inscription, which is contemporary with the main iconographic program of the church, actually imitates the expression of the older inscription, that of Niketas and Eudokia. It was probably a dedicatory one as well, maybe of the donor of the second layer of frescoes. No evidence is preserved about the donor, but he was perhaps a monk (μονα…).

In the church there are four more inscriptions as well, all of them contemporary with the wall-paintings of the second layer, with a content that derives from liturgical texts.5 The literary inscription of Niketas and Eudocia, in combination with the rest of the inscriptions of a liturgical content, is revealing of the intellectual level of the donors.

4. Date

Thierry classifies the church to the so-called “Graeco-oriental” school, and as a consequence dates it to a period before Iconoclasm, to the 7th- or the early 8th century. This date, which Jolivet agrees on, is opposed to the older one of Jerphanion, who, judging by the non-figural content of the decoration and the absolute lack of holy personages, dated it to the period of Iconoclasm, and specifically to the early 9th century; Lafontaine-Dosogne falls in with this view in an article of hers referring to the iconoclastic iconographic programmes of the Byzantine churches.6

1. de Jerphanion, G., Les églises rupestres de Cappadoce. Une nouvelle province de l’art byzantin (Paris 1925-1942), I, 2, p. 504-510 and Thierry, N., “Matériaux nouveux en Cappadoce (1982)” Byzantion 54 (1984), p. 318-320.

2. See Jolivet-Lévy, C., “Le riche décor peint de Tokalı kilise à Göremme”, Histoire et Archéologie. Les Dossiers 63 (1982), p. 67, and Wharton-Epstein, Α., Tokalı Kilise. Tenth Century Metropolitan Art in Byzantine Cappadocia (Washington D.C. 1986), p. 10.

3. For the wall-paintings of this church see Thierry, Ν., “Matériaux nouveux en Cappadoce (1982)”, Byzantion 54 (1984), p. 320, and Jolivet-Lévy, C., Les églises byzantines de Cappadoce. Le programme iconographique de l’abside et de ses abords (Paris 1991), p. 71.

4. Jolivet-Lévy, C., Les églises byzantines de Cappadoce. Le programme iconographique de l’abside et de ses abords (Paris 1991), p. 46, 71. See Thierry, Ν., “Matériaux nouveux en Cappadoce (1982)”, Byzantion 54 (1984), p. 320.

5. For the inscriptions of the church see de Jerphanion, G., “Inscriptions Byzantines de la région d’Ürgúp en Cappadoce”, Mélanges de la Faculté oriental de l’Université St.-Joseph (Beyrouth) 6-7 (1913), p.343-348, and Les églises rupestres de Cappadoce. Une nouvelle province de l’art byzantin (Paris 1925-1942), I, 2, 504, inscr. no. 82.

6. Thierry, Ν., “Matériaux nouveux en Cappadoce (1982)”, Byzantion 54 (1984), p. 320, and Jolivet-Lévy, C., Les églises byzantines de Cappadoce. Le programme iconographique de l’abside et de ses abords (Paris 1991), p. 71. Cf. de Jerphanion, G., Les églises rupestres de Cappadoce. Une nouvelle province de l’art byzantin (Paris 1925-1942), I, 2, p. 505, and Lafontaine-Dosogne, J., “Pour une problématique de la peinture d’église byzantine à l’époque iconoclaste”, Dumbarton Oaks Papers 41 (1987), p. 330.


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