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The photographer Brian McKee took a while finding Yedı Kılıse, the village of Seven Churches, for his photo essay in Cornucopia 54. But it was well worth all the effort, he said, not just for the warm welcome of the village children, but for the the frescoes in the 11th-century Church of the Mother of God, which “should not be missed”. Once one of the richest ecclesiastical establishments in the kingdom of Vaspurakan, and the seat of the archbishop of the Armenian Church in Van, this is the only one of the supposed “seven churches” to survive intact, despite the vicissitudes of history, from 14th-century moghul ravages through 20th-century turmoil and an earthquake in 2011. The church was founded, so the story goes, on rediscovered fragments of the True Cross, thought lost. The zamatun, or the entry hall, is a 17th-century addition and the best preserved part of the building. Old photographs from the beginning of the 20th century show the monastery intact, with conical roofs still in place.
If you go into the mosque, says McKee, someone there will certainly know someone who knows how to get hold of the custodian with his key. For tl10 he will unlock the gate and the wooden door in the carved stone portal to admit you to the church.
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