“Who holds the keys to heaven?”
I can remember questions like this being asked when I was in my Sunday School class in our local church as a child.
The answer, according to the Christian scriptures, is St Peter, but earlier this week I met the man who, at least, held the keys to a beautiful church building in Gülşehir, Cappadocia.
Tucked away in the northwest corner of Gülşehir is a free standing church that seems to pop out of nowhere.
This structure was erected in 1896 by the Greek Orthodox community living in the area. At the time of the Greek-Turkish Population Exchange of 1923 the church fell into the hands of the local government and was recently restored (April 2011). Even though there are no surviving frescoes in this building, walking around in a large free standing church is a nice change from having to be hunched over when visiting all of the cave churches in the region.
St Demetrius (feast day of 26 October) was the namesake for this church as he was commonly paired with St George of Cappadocia (he of dragon slaying fame). Demetrius was a martyr in the 4th century, and legend has it that he was a high military official under the Eastern Emperor, Galerius Maximian. After a triumphant battle campaign Maximian desired to hold pagan games and offer sacrifices in honor of his victories in the city of Thessalonica. Demetrius objected to this and was thrown into prison.
He was then visited by a young Christian named Nestor, who asked for Demetrius’ blessing as he desired to challenge the leading pagan champion of the day, Lyaeus. After this brute’s death at the hands of Nestor, Maximian found out about Demetrius’ role in this ordeal and had him speared to death, and later buried under the prison. Years later a church was built over this prison in Thessalonica, and in the 7th century it is reported that a miraculous flow of myrrh was emanating from his tomb. Thus, his name, St Demetrius the Myrrh-Streamer.
At the church in Gülşehir a well, which can be seen today, was found to the right of the structure, and people would come to drink and clean themselves with this water, believing that it was holy water.
Today, the church is open to the public for viewing, upon obtaining the key from the neighborhood headman across the street. Kadir Bey, of the Çalışanlar Mahallesi (Worker’s Neighborhood), was more than willing to open the doors for us to walk around and take pictures. Some tourist groups have been able to obtain the keys and actually hold worship services within the building as well. The Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I, reportedly comes each Spring to hold special services here at the Church of St Demetrius.
If you are looking for a quiet place to meditate and soak in the reverent atmosphere, I would suggest a quick side trip to Gülşehir, and a few minutes to meander among the columns of this structure. Entering the building gives one the sense of the majestic as it is quite large, and it is a good reminder that we are not the center of the universe.
Here is a 30 second video of the inside of the church:
Are you interested in these kinds of churches that speak of a more recent history?
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Cappadocia Churches: Church of St Demetrius (Gulşehir) [VIDEO]
“Who holds the keys to heaven?”