As we stepped ashore on the Island of Aktamar after our short boat trip across Lake Van from Edremit it soon became clear that for the first time on our pilgrimage we were to share the site with tourists.
Sadly the groups already ashore made it difficult for us to find any chance for peace, prayer and contemplation within the church. In any event the guard on duty told us that we could not say the Lord’s Prayer there as a group, so we had to find our own moments for private prayer.
Whilst I knelt silently and I hoped unobtrusively in a dark corner within the church the building was besieged by noisy groups who seemed to care little for the sacred space, whilst they listened to poor and inaccurate information from guides who seemed to have little accurate knowledge of the place. Indeed one group were more interested in getting back earlier to their hotel to allow shopping and swimming time before supper!
This tenth century Church of the Holy Cross is truly beautiful and as so often on this pilgrimage we were blessed with fine weather to be able to view it in detail from outside as well as within. For it is justifiably famous for the very fine carved bas-reliefs on all four sides illustrating biblical stories from both Old and New Testaments. As I walked around the church, starting with the south side and dodging tourists and tombstones, I looked with awe at depictions of David and Goliath, the Madonna with Jesus, the Isaac sacrifice, the Jonah story, a rather playful vineyard scene: then on the East side St John the Evangelist, John the Baptist and Gregory the Illuminator, (whom we met at Ani): to the North, Shadrak, Meshak and Abednego and the fiery furnace, and Adam and Eve: and so round to the Western side with a rather wonderful relief of a church and Jesus Christ. Sadly the frescoes inside the church, Christian images of the gospel stories, have been badly damaged and it needed some patience and a very cricked neck to work out the meaning of much of the imagery. I was sorry I didn’t get a good image of Gregory the Illuminator, in bas relief alongside St John the Evangelist and John the Baptist on the East façade, but there is a very good website which provides extensive detail and drawings of all the various images at and very much more besides. This is all very comprehensive, for those who wish to delve much deeper into the detail of these various sites. Reading that website and from our own observations it is apparent that much of historical and architectural importance is being allowed to collapse and decay, through vandalism, some officially sanctioned it would seem, even politically motivated. This is sad and disturbing…
|a view of the graveyard at Aktamar|
|Restoration? Rebuilding? of monks' accommodation|
Are the Turks deliberately trying to hide the Armenian Christian heritage in Anatolia? The new name for the island given to it by the Turkish authorities of Akdamar, meaning White Vein, is claimed by some to be part of a deliberate cultural cleansing. What I experienced within the church made me uneasy for the future of such a beautiful sacred artefact.
|looking back as we leave the island|