‘Smiling Virgin Mary’ welcomes visitors in Niğde
A fresco depicting a smiling Virgin Mary in the Gümüşler Monastery in the Central Anatolian province of Niğde has been drawing much attention of local and foreign tourists, but it is yet to be found whether she was actually smiling when the fresco was first made or it is the result of a restoration that went wrong.
Located in the Cappadocia region, six kilometers away from the city center, the monastery is believed to have been constructed sometime during the 8th and 12th centuries.
It is home to inner decorations, known as the best wall paintings in the Cappadocia region, rock-carved priest chambers, a kitchen, storage containers, a two-storey underground city and hidden sections for emergency situations.
The monastery, perched on a nearly 1.5-kilometer-long rock-carved settlement, is best known for the Smiling Virgin Mary fresco, known to be the only one in Anatolia.
Even if some wall paintings in the Greek cross-planned church inside the monastery have been ruined, the Smiling Virgin Mary fresco is still strong and maintains the mystery surrounding it.
Speaking to state-run Anadolu Agency, Provincial Culture and Tourism Director Basri Akdemir said the Gümüşler Monastery on the Niğde-Kayseri road was one of the best-preserved important structures in the Cappadocia region.
Stating that the monastery and the settlement around it were at the same time used as an animal shelter and for other business purposes, Akdemir said: “The area of the central courtyard measures 14x4 meters and the courtyard’s wall is 14 meters high. The courtyard is open to rock-carved structures and all the structures are open to the courtyard. The sections have connection to each other with secret tunnels. The number of graves that have so far been found is 30. There is a hole at the entrance of the courtyard and it goes to the underground city. There is a small room on the left of the entrance which opens to the two-storey underground city with a capacity of seven-eight people.”
Best wall paintings in Cappadocia
Akdemir said the roof of the church, which is located opposite to the entrance, looks like a dome, adding that there are wall paintings depicting Jesus Christ, Virgin Mary and other notable figures of Christianity on three apses of the church.
Akdemir said the best wall paintings in Cappadocia were in the church, adding: “Jesus Christ is seen on top of the paintings with two angels on his right and the symbols of Lukas, who is one of the writers of the Bible, and a bull. Other frescoes depict Virgin Mary, the apostles, the Basil of Caesarea [today Kayseri], Gregory of Nyssa and Gregorios of Naziyans.”
He said the fresco of the Smiling Virgin Mary holding Jesus Christ on the left apsis was considered “one of a kind” in Anatolia.
“The Mary figure looks like she is looking at you from all directions. The hunting scenes and animal figures on the wall of the narthex are unique examples of their kind, according to officials,” he added.
Akdemir noted that the wall paintings were restored by British archaeologist and restorer Michael Gough in the 1960s.
“The figure of Virgin Mary smiling most probably was a restoration mistake, but it is known like this in Turkey and abroad. This place was restored three times. We don’t have any information if Mother Mary was smiling before the restoration but such restoration mistakes have been made before,” he added.