Research Article

DOI :10.26650/artsanat.2023.20.1304791   IUP :10.26650/artsanat.2023.20.1304791    Full Text (PDF)

Two Sacred Bread Seals from Yalova/ Çobankale Excavation

Gülgün KöroğluSelçuk Seçkin

Xerigordos (Çobankale), located in the Yalakdere Valley in the Altınova district of Yalova, is a particularly important castle settlement established on the main roads. The name of the castle is frequently mentioned in historical sources between the 11th and 14th centuries. During the archaeological excavations started in the castle with the permission of the Republic of Turkiye Ministry of Culture and Tourism, two terracotta seals with depictions of crosses on them were unearthed in the immediate surroundings of the architectural remains identified as a chapel. The fact that the seals were found around the chapel suggests that they were used for bread, which was believed to have been specially prepared and sealed before being baked and transformed into the body of Christ, to be distributed during the most important religious ceremony of Christianity, the consecration of bread and wine (Eucharist). The impressed surface of the conicalshaped sacramental bread seals is engraved with a gradually framed depiction of a cross. Other artifacts found during the excavations and comparisons with similar seals make it possible to date the bread seals to the Middle Byzantine period (11th-12th centuries). Within the scope of this study, the sacred bread seals unearthed in Çobankale excavations will be introduced, the polytheistic and monotheistic symbolic meaning of bread will be emphasized, and similar examples from the same period found in archaeological excavations will be discussed.

DOI :10.26650/artsanat.2023.20.1304791   IUP :10.26650/artsanat.2023.20.1304791    Full Text (PDF)

Yalova/Çobankale Kazısından İki Kutsal Ekmek Mührü

Gülgün KöroğluSelçuk Seçkin

Yalova’nın Altınova ilçesi, Yalakdere Vadisi üzerinde yer alan Xerigordos (Çobankale), ana yollar üzerinde kurulmuş önemli bir kale yerleşimidir. Kalenin adı 11-14. yüzyıllar arasında tarihî kaynaklarda sıklıkla geçmektedir. T.C. Kültür ve Turizm Bakanlığı izniyle kalede başlatılan arkeolojik kazılar sırasında şapel olduğu belirlenen mimari kalıntının yakın çevresinde üzerlerinde haç tasvirleri olan iki adet pişmiş topraktan yapılmış mühür gün ışığına çıkarılmıştır. Mühürlerin şapel çevresinde ele geçmiş olması, Hristiyanlığın en önemli dinî töreni olan ekmek ve şarabın kutsandığı ayinde (ökaristi/ eucharistia) dağıtılmak için özel olarak hazırlanıp pişirilmeden önce mühürlenerek İsa’nın bedenine dönüştürüldüğüne inanılan ekmekler için kullanılmış olduğunu göstermektedir. Konik biçimli kutsal ekmek mühürlerinin baskı yüzeyinde kademeli biçimde çerçeve içine alınmış haç tasvirleri oyulmuştur. Benzerleriyle yapılan karşılaştırmalar ve kazılar sırasında bulunan diğer buluntular ekmek mühürlerinin Orta Bizans Dönemi’ne tarihlendirilmesini (11-12. yüzyıllar arası) olanaklı kılmaktadır. Bu çalışma kapsamında Çobankale kazılarında bulunan kutsal ekmek mühürleri tanıtılıp ekmeğin çok tanrılı ve tek tanrılı simgesel anlamı üzerinde durulmuş ve arkeolojik kazılarda bulunan aynı döneme ait benzer örnekler ele alınmıştır.


Çobankale in the Yalakdere valley of the Altınova district of Yalova is frequently mentioned during the Crusades and the establishment of the Ottoman Empire. Due to the historical and geographical importance that the castle has, archaeological excavations were started in 2020. The bread seals unearthed during the excavations in Çobankale, which is the subject of this article, were found in the chapel area in 2020.

Bread, which is the basic food of human beings, and the wheat from which bread is made are considered sacred in most polytheistic and monotheistic religions, given different names and given special meanings. It is known that the Hittites, Egyptians, and Greeks made offerings to the gods by pressing seals and decorating their bread in animal or traditional forms for religious ceremonies, thus increasing their healing properties.

This bread called Hygeia in connection with abundance, fertility, and health, was produced and sealed in the Asklepions, where the God of Health Asclepius and his daughter Hygeia were worshiped together and were also the health centers of the period, and were distributed to the visitors with the intention of healing. In addition, it is known that bread was included in the Greek Eleusis and Orphic rituals, and in the Roman periods Adonis, Demeter, Persephone, Isis, and Helios rituals. Bread was not only offered to the gods but also to those who participated in religious ceremonies. It is stated that bread is made to protect from diseases and that there is a seal stamp with “Hygeiai” written on them. The belief in the relationship of bread with health and its healing power continued throughout the Early Christian and Byzantine periods. The Greek inscriptions ZOH /ZOE (Life), PHOS (Light), and YΓIΑ (Health) are frequently encountered on crosses, jewelry, seals, and stone artifacts. In addition to wishing a healthy life to the person who eats the bread, the wish here must also have the meaning of being purified from sins and finding eternal life in Jesus.

Bread, especially sealed bread, carries more religious meanings than others in Jewish and Christian beliefs. Symbolic and unleavened bread, such as the sacrificing of the lamb, the prayer of thanksgiving, the blessing of the wine, and the sharing of matza, are celebrated in Passover (Pesah/ Fısıh/ Hag ha Matzot), which is the most important religious holiday of the Jews, which is organized to commemorate the liberation of the Israelites from the bondage of Egypt with the help of God. There are ceremonial practices. 

In Christianity, on the other hand, it is stated many times in the Bible that the eternal and true bread that came down from heaven is Jesus himself (John 6: 27, 32–35, 48, 51, 53–58), symbolizing his body that he sacrificed for humanity (Luke 22:19), Corinthians 10:11 ve 16–17). Thanksgiving ritual, which is the ceremonial reflection of eating the bread symbolizing the flesh of Jesus, and drinking the wine symbolizing his blood, means union with Jesus, and the Eucharist, which is one of the basic religious ceremonies such as baptism for the Christian faith, means gratitude. The eucharist, which exists in all Christian denominations and is held at regular intervals in the church, is also a sacrificial ceremony. It is held to commemorate the last supper where Jesus announced that he would be sacrificed on the cross for the sake of humanity, and his death on the cross for humanity. It is synonymous with Abel’s willingness to sacrifice the lamb, Abraham’s son Ishmael, as described in the Torah, and Melchizedek king of Salem offering fine flour (bread) and wine (Genesis 14:18; Leviticus 2:23, 13). Jesus did not offer an animal, a son, flour, or wine like the others, but himself as a sacrifice to God.

In the development of the Eucharist doctrine lies the commentaries of Paul, Cyrill of Jerusalem, John of Chrysostomos, Basileos the Great, Gregorios of Nyssa, Cyrill of Alexandria, Ioannes Damascenos, Theodoret, Ambrose, and Augustine.

In the search for the source of the eucharist, it is believed that it originates from the bread prepared to serve in religious ceremonies for nature, fertility, and health in Greek and Roman beliefs, and from unleavened bread prepared for the Passover feast of the Jews. Christians in the 1st century, including Jesus and his apostles, continued to celebrate the Jewish Passover. At the beginning of the 2nd century, it is known that the Eucharist took the place of Passover.

During the Byzantine period, the rite of bread and wine was organized especially on Saturdays, Sundays, and feast days. Although there is information in the sources that this ritual was performed on other days of the week since the 8th century, it probably became a daily practice only in monastic churches.

Today, eucharistic services are held in churches only on Sunday mornings and in the evening on special feast days. The eucharistic bread, called prosphora which represents the body of Jesus as a metaphor and the birth of God in human form, is a large loaf baked by adding first-quality white wheat flour, yeast, salt, and water in accordance with the Orthodox tradition. Catholics, on the other hand, do not put yeast on their bread. Orthodox eucharistic bread, which is prepared by the clergy accompanied by prayers and incense, consists of two dough balls. One of them represents the divine side of Jesus and the second represents his human side. 

Bread prepared for feasts other than the Eucharist rite, the days of commemoration of holy persons, and the funeral meals held especially on the third day after the deceased are also sealed, just like the prosphora. There is also consecration (eulogia) bread, sealed with seals with the image of the saint and religious writings, prepared to be presented to the faithful in shrines or churches where saints were martyred or containing holy relics associated with them. It was believed that the spiritual power of the saint would pass to the person who shared the bread, thanks to the depictions and inscriptions on the bread.

The final stage of the preparation of both eucharistic and eulogia bread is the sealing of the bread with seals with Christian-related depictions, writings, and figures. While the eucharist bread symbolizes Jesus, the eulogia bread mostly has depictions and inscriptions related to a saint or feast. It is believed that the sealed bread becomes more sanctified, turning into the body of Jesus.

Bread seals made of stone, terracotta, or wood are mostly conical or flattened hemispheres and bronze seals are rectangular or cruciform. The printing surfaces of the seals are round, oval, rectangular, or cruciform, and their dimensions generally vary between 4 and 10 cm. Behind the seals, there are handles, rings, or conical-shaped handles for ease of use. Among the sacred bread seals used in the Byzantine period, the number of samples that can be dated is quite low.

The depictions and subjects on the printing surfaces of the seals have not changed much over time.

It is seen that the Byzantine period sacred bread seals in museums and collections often have similar patterns, shapes, and writings. Five, six, and eight-pointed stars, knot shapes, plant and flower patterns, crescents, triangles, vases, and other symbolic and decorative shapes and animal figures were also embroidered. The cross is frequently encountered in bread seals of all periods, as it is believed to be the most important symbol of Christianity, as it is believed to protect all animate and inanimate things from all kinds of evil, as well as the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross in the name of humanity. Depictions of the cross are usually enclosed in a round or polygonal frame or an arch based on two columns. On both terracotta seals unearthed in Çobankale excavations, a Greek cross is engraved inside a medallion and its surroundings are shown gradually. Thus, when the seals are pressed on the dough surface, it must have been aimed for the dough to enter the space inside the cross and for this part to appear prominently as a relief when the bread is baked. It is noteworthy that compositions with only the cross depiction on the sacred bread seals of the middle and late Byzantine period were preferred.

It is seen that the depiction of the cross is predominantly preferred in the Orthodox Christian bread seals from the early Byzantine period to the present day, which were unearthed in archaeological excavations and exhibited in museums and private collections.

It is not always easy and accurate to date the seals made of different materials, which are understood from the specific shapes, writings, and compositions on the sacred bread of the Byzantine period if they do not come from a specific context in archaeological excavations. It is also possible that sacred bread seals, like other liturgical items, were used for many years or were copies of older models in later periods.

In this context, bread seals made of terracotta with cross engravings unearthed in the Çobankale excavations are highly valuable as they are the samples of sacred bread seals that can be dated in the context of the middle Byzantine (11th-12th century) period, thanks to other finds.

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Köroğlu, G., & Seçkin, S. (2023). Two Sacred Bread Seals from Yalova/ Çobankale Excavation. Art-Sanat, 0(20), 355-376.


Köroğlu G, Seçkin S. Two Sacred Bread Seals from Yalova/ Çobankale Excavation. Art-Sanat. 2023;0(20):355-376.


Köroğlu, G.; Seçkin, S. Two Sacred Bread Seals from Yalova/ Çobankale Excavation. Art-Sanat, [Publisher Location], v. 0, n. 20, p. 355-376, 2023.

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