Svetly Mys (Bright Cape)

Kyrgyzstan mountain ranges and passes. Kyrgyzstan recreation

Kyrgyzstan nature

An interesting destination for a short excursion is the small village of Svetly Mys (Bright Cape), which is hidden away in the north-eastern corner of Lake Issyk-Kul, near the village of Belovodsk, about 50 km from Karakol.

Svetly Mys is said to be the burial place of St. Matthew, Jesus’ apostle. According to legend, he wrote the Gospel of Matthew for his compatriots in Palestine, and then, around the time of the persecution of Herod Agrippa in 42 AD, fled to distant lands. 

On St. Matthew’s subsequent life and career we have only legends and limited, sometimes contradictory, information. Ancient writers are far from unanimous in their descriptions of his travels, but almost all mention the land of Ethiopia (an area located south of the Caspian Sea, not the African country). Some also mention Persia, Parthia, Macedonia, and Syria. Little is known about Matthew’s death, and at least one author claims he did not die as a martyr. Is it possible that he ended up in Central Asia, at Issyk-Kul, and died there?

Whether or not this is the case, various religious communities – Nestorian, Armenian, and Orthodox – are said to have been founded here. In 1888, the tsar of Russia ordered the establishment of an Orthodox monastery. Roads were laid in the form of an Orthodox cross, and some of the monastery’s wooden buildings have been preserved to this day.

During the Central Asian uprising of 1916, the monastery was attacked and most of the monks were killed. Two survived, with one fleeing to Alma-ata (now Almaty), and the other towards Ananyevo, a nearby village. Both were subsequently canonised as saints. One of the icons of the Virgin Mary is said to have shed tears and blood following the uprising. This icon was later placed in Karakol’s wooden cathedral, where it can still be seen.

In Soviet times (1985-1989), underwater research conducted at Issyk-Kul yielded interesting results. At the bottom of the lake the researchers discovered many historically valuable objects up to 2,500 years old. They also found nine medieval and three ancient settlements.

In 2002, an American film company, IPV News USA, organised another expedition in the area and claimed to have discovered the remains of an ancient Christian Nestorian monastery. It was also announced that an artifact that looked like a hollowed-out log had been found under a thick layer of sediment and pebble deposits, with the researchers suggesting the remains of St. Matthew may be in this “log”. Another expedition took place the following year, but very limited information was released to the public about its outcome. The only information available is about mining operations and the use of drilling equipment in a significant part of the Tyup region. However, it was reported that the film company had hired writers to work on a script for a new film dedicated to the relics of St. Matthew, and that negotiations had begun with several Hollywood film studios.