One of the oldest churches in Ihlara Valley, Yilanli Church is different from other churches of the valley in different ways. This large cave church is said to be built at the end of the 8th century. The church has many paintings, in fact, in the valley, it’s the only church with a comprehensive painting program. These features are the reasons why it’s probably one of the most visited churches in this region, but its location also has a big role to play in it.
The church lies near the middle entrance of Ihlara, that’s also the main entrance. It’s located on the opposite side of Sumbullu Church. There are two more churches of this name, one located in Goreme Open Air Museum and one on Soganli Valley, however, they are not related to this church.
Also called, Serpent Church and Snake Church, it’s different from other churches in the valley in two ways. The church’s plan and its frescos are distinctive features. Most of the churches that have frescoes, only depict scenes from the Bible, but this church also has paintings of the other world.
The central part of the church has two square segments. The nave in the front is shaped like a cross, having a flat roof and short arms, where the nave in the back is a large narthex room. The side of the nave has a burial chamber that extends far down; a small narthex leads into it.
The paintings are styled with thick lines, colored in dark blue and soft red. The colors and sizes of the paintings are very bold and create a very strong impression. The nave rooms were used brilliantly by the artists to paint the portraits. Furthermore, there is an altar, carved from rock, in the sanctuary. There are also painted curtains that mark the start of the walls (that trim the base).
There is an arched recess on the east wall. The front section is somewhat changed now and it wasn’t always like this. The south wall has bands of ornate paintings. The lower section contains geometric patterns, around the reduced apse. There is a Maltese cross having a white background. The naos and narthex are divided by the eminent archway. The front half is shaped like a cross, as we have mentioned before, but the back nave has a more elaborate painting program.
There is a small burial chamber, with no natural source of lighting. Several parallel spaces have brief funerary engravings. The inscriptions show the departed person’s name and day of death. It was Byzantine tradition to place the head of the deceased on the west end, beneath the engravings. To the west of the church, there is another burial room having 19 graves.