Christian monks burrowed like worms into porous stone from, giant cones which wind and weather carved. These are the rock monasteries of Cappadocia and in the days of Byzantium the monks tuned these giant cones into a city of cells, altars and churches in a remote section of central Turkey. At its peak the community was believed to have been comprised of forty thousand monks, augmented by war refugees fleeing from Arabs, Turks, Crusaders, or Byzantines. About three hundred and sixty five churches have been counted, and others are still undiscovered at the end of impassable tunnels.
Besides the hundreds of churches, there are also neighborhood hermitages by the score. Every second cone is chambered and honeycombed till it is as hollow, sometimes from peak to base, as a rotten tooth. The personage who appears most frequently on the wall murals is Saint George. Armored, red cloaked, heavily helmeted, and reproduced ad infinitum, he cranes from the saddle of his white charger to drive his lance through the serpentine coils of innumerable dragons. Eternal twilight surrounds these prancings and death throes.
The question always arises, who were these monks, and where did they come from and how did they live? There does not appear to be any explanation. Did they arrive as hermits in flight from the corruption of Byzantium and Antioch? The hearths black with the smoke of prehistoric meals and the shelves for kitchen utensils are said to point to a communal life. The date of most of the churches coincides almost exactly with the first irruption and early expansion of the Seljuk Turks in the eleventh century. Cappadocia, in pagan times, was a famous refuge of the Zoroastrians. Did the Christians also seek sanctuary in the fastnesses in flight from the barbarian newcomers? These shaven-pated and pigtailed hordes, leaving their gloomy Asian steppes, were sweeping westward with scimitar and kettledrum on the first stages of the journey of destruction that later carried the Ottoman Turks to the walls of Vienna.
While the Byzantine armies were contesting the Turkish advance, small wonder, then, if the Greek contemplatives of Asia Minor should have sought out such a place of hiding and seclusion. The vast stones, poised ingrooves down which they could be slid to seal the entrances of some of the larger caves, would seem to corroborate a hypothesis of this nature.