Armenian cave temples are part of the country’s early Christian history. They appeared in the caves where the first preachers of Christianity had found dwelling and where the first Christian communities had been located.
The study of this piece of Armenian heritage is now difficult since most of these cave temples are now in Turkey. However, research of even a fraction of these caves is enough to reveal the features of Armenian cave temples.
The Derevank cave temple is located in the vicinity of the city of Kayseri in Turkey (previously Caesarea). Initially, the temple was called Dzoravank, but its name was Turkified. “Dere” in Turkish means “gorge” or “canyon”, which is synonymous with the Armenian word “dzor”.
What are the particularly interesting features in this structure?
In the 19th century, French archaeologist Charles Texier suggested that Derevank dated back to the earliest times of Christianity and could have initially served as a simple cave for prayers of Christian hermits.
The Armenians of the nearby settlement treated the cave as their “cathedral”. The village itself, although completely Armenian, housed the ruins of a Greek church in its central areas. This may indicate that the settlement was originally Christian, not just Armenian.
There also used to be the churches of St. Sergius and St. Toros in this village. During the Hamid massacres, the bells of both were destroyed. The village itself disappeared during the massacre of 1909, and its churches would finally be destroyed during the Genocide.
The location of the temple is quite well-known. Apostles Peter and Paul have preached in the nearby Caesarea. And it was here, in Cappadocia, that their first students hid from persecution in local caves.
Grigor Lusavorich (Gregory the Illuminator), the baptist of Armenia, has spent his youth here as well. Based on this, Derevank could have indeed originally been a place of refuge for the first Christians and served as a base location for a magnificently built Armenian complex.
The village itself has become famous for its natives. The Balian family, Ottoman Armenian architects who erected the magnificent palaces of Dolmabahçe, Beylerbeyi, the Ortaköy Mosque, and many other classics of Ottoman architecture were born here.
There is no village here now, and the cave is empty. And it is unknown how many more such cultural monuments one may find throughout Cappadocia.
The exploration of such heritage could answer the question of who were the first Armenian Christians, which would allow scholars to study their contacts with the first preachers of Christianity.
Thaddeus and Bartholomew brought Christianity to Armenia, but were they the only apostles who the Armenians directly spoke with and whose speeches were heard by the Armenians? Most likely, the proselytism of Christianity among Armenians had a much wider scale than thought.
Arthur Hakobyan, Antitopor