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St. Niketas – Grape Church


The Grape Church, also known as St. Niketas Church, is a cave church located in Red Valley, Cappadocia. It is set in a unique fairy chimney, and the church has a single nave with beautiful floral frescoes. St. Niketas, the ascetic hermit, lived here in solitude. He was known as a “stylite,” a type of ascetic who lived atop a pillar or in this case, a fairy chimney. Stylite asceticism began with St. Symeon in Syria, who lived atop a small pillar for 37 years. Niketas came to this site as a stylite monk in the mid-800s and became a popular holy person who attracted many visitors, including the military leader Eustratios. After a victory, Eustratios donated a generous amount to carve and paint this church at the base of Niketas’ living cell.

The Grape Church provides a historical glimpse into ancient Cappadocia monasticism and the stylite asceticism practiced by Niketas. Compared to other Cappadocia churches, we know a lot about the function and purpose of this church. Based on the architecture and inscriptions, we can infer that a stylite hermit named Saint Niketas lived in the upper cell and worshiped at the church. The donor inscription for this church (next to St. Symeon’s pillar) refers to “the most glorious Eustratios,” who was a military leader in the Tarsus mountain range (about 170 km southeast of this church).

The Grape Church is a single nave church, measuring only 8 meters by 2 meters. The carving is rather plain, with no extra borders, trims, columns, or seats carved from the rock. The church dates back to the 800s, based on the stylized flower and prominence of the cross throughout the frescoes painting.

The small entry room into the church has a rounded, barrel vaulted room with a large rock cut tomb (acrosolium) on the left. In the main room of the church (naos), a stunning cross and flower design covers the ceiling. Around the cross are seventeen interlaced circles (roundels) with a Maltese cross and peacock feathers inside each roundel. The front wall has a crucifixion scene, with St. Simeon, Mary, an unidentified person, and John the Baptist. The text of John the Baptist’s scroll reads, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” The back wall has a depiction of the Ascension.

The Grape Church is historically significant as it provides insights into the religious practices and architectural designs of ancient Cappadocia monasticism. Its frescoes reflect the influence of Persian and Arab art styles and the orientalizing of the standard Byzantine artwork due to political shifts in Cappadocia at the time. The church’s name, Grape Church or Uzumlu Kilise in Turkish, comes from the grapevines and acanthus flowers in the ceiling frescoes, which symbolize God’s people in the Bible.

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