Saturday, August 13, 2005

Buried treasure

Kyrgyzstan Development Gateway tells an intriguing tale:

The Issyk-Kul Regional Archaeological Expedition of the Kyrgyz Russian Slavic University led by Academician, Vladimir Ploskih has been searching for an Armenian Brothers’ Monastery shown on the Katalan map of the world made in the 14th century for several years. Several days ago they found an underground temple.

There was a legend at the beginning

Local residents have long talked about a mysterious cave near Kurmentyu village in Issyk-Kul region.

25 years ago, Alexander Korabliev who was born here, said that when he was a child he had explored the cave and saw rooms dug there. According to him, there were almost 30 rooms on two levels.

The passage to the lower floor was almost completely blocked by rocks so only a small child could squeeze through.

According to legend, during the rebellion in 1916 a monk from a nearby orthodox monastery hid in the cave and since then the villagers have called it Monk’s Hole, thinking he was the one who dug it.

There is another version that says that Russian hermits who settled here in the second half of the 19th century built these rooms.

There is no written scientific record of this underground temple. All the nearby caves would have had to be explored and it was said that the entrance had been destroyed and it was too dangerous to go there. ...

The historians started their descent. We recognised at once that it was an architectural construction. One could see the professionally built arches and well thought-out design. Rooms cross at right angles and there are several passages that end in small cells. The main room just before the entrance sloped downwards and turned left and then there was an obstruction although its vault could be seen for several metres further.

When was it built? We found the answer in one of the arches where several deeply hammered in and totally corroded metal rods were found there, which could only have got in that state over a long period of time. The next day, Academician Vladimir Ploskih investigated the find and walked around all the rooms. In the evening he reported to all scientific and historical centres that the Armenian Brothers’ Monastery had finally been found and it was a sensation.

A lot of work remains to be done and first of all, it is necessary to clear away the obstructions in the cave and investigate the entire monastery.

It might be that this is the monastery where, according to the 14th Century map, the Apostle Mathew’s relics are kept.

Unfortunately, there seems to be little else in English on the Web about this, although I did find an English-language biography of Dr Ploskih.

The debate over whether St Matthew is buried in Kyrgyzstan has apparently been going on for some time -- an old entry from has a very good list of links on the subject. But regardless of whether the relics are there (I'm afraid I tend -- perhaps too often -- to fall into Disputations' Category B on these matters), the monastery is surely worth investigating on its own merits. I hope this won't be the last we hear of this discovery.


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