Cappadocia today holds more than a thousand churches, dating from the earliest days of Christianity to the thirteenth century. For many centuries the religious authority of the capital of Cappadocia, Caesarea (present-day Kayseri), extended over the whole of southeast Anatolia, and it was where Gregory the Illuminator, the evangelizer of Armenia, was raised. The region also produced some of the greatest early ecclesiastical writers, including the fourth-century Cappadocian Fathers: Basil the Great, Gregory of Nazianzen and Gregory of Nyssa.

By the start of the eighth century, the political power of Cappadocia’s increasing number of monks was beginning to cause concern, leading to the closure of monasteries and confiscation of their property. The worst period of repressive activity occurred during the reign of Constantine V, marked by the Iconoclastic Council of 754. All sacred images, except the cross, were forbidden, a ruling that had a profound effect on the creative life of the region’s churches.

After the restoration of the cult of images in 843, the religious activity of Cappadocia saw a renewed vigour. The wealth of the Church increased to such an extent that in 964 monastery building was prohibited, an edict only withdrawn in 1003. Meanwhile, the religious communities were brought to heel, controlled to a greater extent by the ecclesiastical hierarchy. Even though Cappadocia continued to be a centre of religious activity well into the Ottoman period, it had lost the artistic momentum that had produced the extraordinary works of earlier centuries.

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