Christian Church near the Village Veseloye near Sochi

The church is located in the interfluve area of the Mzyma and the Psou Rivers near the Black Sea maritime coast. As an archaeological site it was discovered in the 1950s, but its location was precisely documented with the use of contemporary methods in the Olympic construction area only in 2008. Before the start of excavations the site looked like a low hill without any traces of layout, with cypresses planted over its surface. The excavations conducted in 2010–2011 demonstrated that architecturally it was an extended cross-in-square building with open narthexes adjoining the building from three sides.

The heavily ruined church that had five entrances has survived mostly in its western part where the height of its walls is slightly above one meter. The walls with a three-step plinth on the outside were built by a ‘filling+facing’ method with the use of cut sandstone slabs on mortar; the inner side of the slabs was plastered, and the slabs had a narrow bench-like plinth. The main body of the church consisted of the central domed bay and eight vaulted bays surrounding it, where the floor made of pink opus signinum, i.e. mortar mixed with bricks broken up into very small pieces, was preserved in several places. The clearance of the rubble demonstrated that the naves, dome support structures, and, probably, the dome itself were made of stone, while the supporting arch was made of plinth. The church had a tiled roof.

Inside the church a thin layer of disrepair with flakes of plaster formed before the building collapsed was underlying a thick layer of the rubble. Four even bases made of grey mortar lying on stone foundations and forming a square in plan were identified on the floor in the central bay. These are the bases of the dome supporting pillars; arches resting on narrow wall pilaster strips stretched from pillar to pillar and traversed from the pillars to the wall. Three openings (with a wide central opening) and three steps led to the three-part soleas; that is why, the floor in the altar area is visibly elevated. The altar was half destroyed, though two construction layers and traces of the dismantled paving made of large slabs running from the altar screen to the altar that had not survived were documented.

An arched burial crypt with disturbed human bones was revealed under the entrance narthex. Two carved limestone slabs from the altar screen thrown into the crypt were recovered. One slab is ornamented with a plaited pattern and the other features a biblical story of Daniel in the lion’s den.

A lot of Christian graves were made in the church and its narthexes. In rare cases funeral offerings such as a broadsword or a set of female jewelry pieces along with some household items indicating a high rank of the buried persons were placed into the graves. The offerings and the location of the graves inside the church are taken to mean that these are the graves of the noblemen. Ordinary members of the parish were buried at the necropolis on the southern part of the site.

A stone building in the form of a rectangular trapezoid of irregular shape measuring 4.2 by 4.8 m was located near the south east corner of the building; inside it was a well shaft, which was more than three meters deep. It was connected to the church by a ground paved with stone. It is the first building of this type unearthed in the region, which explains the abundance of jars at the site as, probably, there was a spring with holy water inside. Its damp lower layer has preserved wooden items unique for this area, such as a small plate and a carved floral board.

The church had simple though expressive ornamentation, the smooth surface of its walls was echoed by white-stoned carved decoration; the focal point is the altar screen with its painted background. Round windows, with light pouring through them, and carved wood adornments created other splashes of color.

The church in Veseloye that belonged to the Abkhazian school of Byzantine architecture was built in the first half of the 10th century. It filled the gap in the list of churches of the same type built in the 10th–11th centuries (the Simon Kananaios Church in New Athos and the Assumption Church in Lykhny in Abkhazia; the North Zelenchuksky Church dedicated to St. George in Alania), and is now viewed as an intermediary element of the overall picture, which describes how construction of these churches spread across the Caucasus to the North in the Middle Byzantine period.

E.A. Armarchuk,

R.A. Mimokhod,

Vl.V. Sedov

Digital Version of the Booklet