A visit to Ihlara valley demands the exploration of Egritas Church, which features burial chambers, frescoes, and a painting program. Half of the church has collapsed, but still has a lot to offer. The paintings seem to be inspired by the Eastern culture or artwork. The extensive burial chambers indicate that it was an important and heavily used cemetery structure for Christian burial. The church was built in the 9th century and dedicated to Mary Theotokos, while the graves date back to the 10th century.
The outer rock walls have collapsed over the years, and you can see the interior spaces clearly, this is why it’s called Egritas, meaning Leaning Rock. The church is located on the northern side of Ihlara Valley, 205 meters away from Dark Castle.
The current shape of the church is not what it used to be. As we mentioned before, about half of the church has collapsed, and the broken cliff face gives a view into the rooms. Originally, it was a single-nave church, but with time many burial rooms were carved around the structure. Below the church, a burial crypt was carved, which was the most unique structure. Originally, two spaces were separated by a living rock. After the rock layer fell, another floor was constructed by the builders. They inserted the wooden crossbeams on the side walls. This floor decayed as well; the reason why you see a large open space today.
Egritas Church is seven meters wide, and even though it’s half-collapsed, it’s bigger in size than other churches in the valley. The well-carved nave is broad. On the south wall of the nave, a trapezoid painted room was carved, and it’s not certain why it was shaped so.
The side walls had a complete painting program, but it has deteriorated over time. The rock wall was covered by a slim layer of lime plaster and a thick layer of straw mud. The sidewall and the lower crypt still contain thick pieces of mud.
There is a huge painted ceiling cross on the barrel vault. The cross is was embellished with geometric jewels. Ihlara valley has several ceiling crosses like this and they date back to 900AD. Double gold lines with diamond jewels and circular shapes feature on the arms of the cross. The white edging has a frame made of red bricks.
Details of the burial chambers
By creating many chambers and rooms of different sizes, a burial space network was connected to the structure. These rooms have several levels. There was no original plan for these burial spaces, and the rooms and chambers were built when there was a requirement. Most of the rooms were carved between the 9th and 10th centuries.
There are floor graves and tomb niches in every room. Paintings and inscriptions were part of these rooms. The graves have painted Greek engraving around them, which are quotes from the Byzantine era.
On the left side of the church, there is a fallen burial chamber that has several painted tombs. There are outer tombs as well have a single grave. You can see the cuts on the inner walls, which tells that shelves were carved here. It’s not confirmed what purpose these shelves served, they could have been belong to a storage closet that was later turned into a burial space. They could also have been used for family burials.
Beneath the church, there is the biggest burial chamber. Burial niches line the walls of the chamber. From the paintings on the lowest parts of the walls, it’s evident that there were more tombs on the floor of this chamber. It’s also possible that the lower room was turned into a burial room later, and earlier it was a storage room.
There are other burial rooms, to the south, connected to each other. There is a square space having 20 burial rooms; the entrance on the south wall of the lower crypt takes you there. On the upper walls of this room, there are three arcosolia. There is another room that resembles the church, and it can be entered through a tunnel staircase. Located above a huge burial space, it was a barrel-vaulted hall with multi-levels.