Carved in an isolated chimney on the west side of the Park of the Churches in the Göreme Valley, Elmali Kilise (Göreme Church 19) is one of the best preserved and fully decorated with frescoes middle Byzantine churches in the area.
The initial dedication of the temple is unknown. However, according to H. Gregoire (1909), it was considered that this church was dedicated to the Archangels since four of them are depicted in equal small domes. The Turkish name Elmali Kilise (Church of the Apple) is probably due to the existence of apple trees, visible till the beginning of the 20th century, near the entrance of the monument. On the other hand, it is believed that this characterization came from the sphere that was held by Archangel Michael, which the non-Christians have wrongly compared to an apple.
Elmali Kilise, together with Karanlik Kilise and Çarikli Kilise comprise the group of churches in Göreme, which have been characterized, based on their architectural plan, as “column churches” or “églises à colonnes”. They are three cross-in-square churches, which are supported on four columns, and share similarities in the contents of the decorative program and in their artistic features. Elmali seems to be second in construction and wall-decoration, after Karanlik.
The decorative program in the church has the typical characteristics, which were adopted in the decoration of the churches after the Iconoclastic dispute. On the dome, Pantokrator is depicted. On the apse of the bema there is Deesis, while on the side walls there are scenes of Dodekaorton, from which though Annunciation is absent. The wall-decoration is completed with Christological scenes, male and female saints, the hospitality of Abraham and the Three young men in the Fiery Furnace. Compared to the slightly earlier Karanlik, which set the example for Elmali’s construction, the church presents weaknesses in the depiction and composition of the figures and also in the perception and use of space.
For the dating of the monument, many suggestions have been made which start from the mid-11th century till the end of the 12th century, even the beginning of the 13th century. Most probable though seems to be the construction in the mid-11th century or the third quarter of the same century.
The temple was restored in 1996-1997 and now is open to the public.