Agia Paraskevi Church
The architecture of the Church
The church of Agia Paraskevi (Agia = Saint) is situated in the central square of the village of Geroskipou. It’s the most important Byzantine monument in the province of Paphos and one of the most famous monuments of Cyprus. It’s the most excellent example of Byzantine architecture. It’s in the form of a basilica and has five domes that are forming across cover the consecrated area.
The three largest ones lie along the center of the nave. The two smaller ones lie above the center of the side aisles to the north and south of the central dome. From the outside, the church is similar to St. Barnabas near Salamis, St. Lazarus in Larnaca. The church is also comparable to the Holy Apostles in Constantinople and St. John in Ephesus
The church dates back to the 9th century and has preserved its original form. At the end of the 18th century, the church was enlarged to accommodate the needs of the village. The church preserves frescoes from the 8th -15th centuries. Some of them are a few of the most important Byzantine frescoes in Cyprus. A monochrome reddish cross, painted directly on the stone, is of an earlier type and was revealed during restoration works. This type of cross dates to the Early Christian period, around the 8th-9th century.
Apart from its frescoes, the church also contains a rather significant portable, double-sided icon, dating to the 15th century. The Virgin Mary appears on one side, and the scene of the Crucifixion on the other
In the antiquity period, the area of Geroskipou associated with the worship of Aphrodite. The famous “Sacred Gardens” of Aphrodite were situated south of the village. The village got its name from these gardens, Geroskipou (Ιερός Κήπος) translates to Ιεροί= Sacred – Κήποι= Gardens. Some historians and archaeologists suggest that the Church of Agia Paraskeui erected on the ruins of an ancient Greek temple of Aphrodite. Nevertheless, it is still not clear if this is true or not.
A complex of caves, ancient carvings, and burial tombs were found in the rocky foothill, southwest of Geroskipou. These are considered to be hermitages from the Christian era. Some of these caves are now pilgrimages. Above the rocky hill, there is a one-aisled chapel dedicated to Saint George. Next, to the chapel, there is a cave from which natural water springs. According to tradition, this was the “Bath of Aphrodite.” The cave of the Five Saints (Auxentios, Eugenios, Efstratios, Mardarios, and Orestis). is also situated nearby. The cave is tiny and was probably used as a hermitage. Its distressed wall paintings decorate the walls.
Recent discoveries revealed that during the Early Christian period there was a luxurious basilica in Geroskipou, near the cave of Five Saints. Its destruction during the Arab raids was probably the reason that contributed to the construction of a church in the 9th century. Initially, the church was dedicated to the Holy Cross and later to Agia Paraskevi.
The life of Agia Paraskevi
Agia Paraskevi was born in Rome in the period of Emperor Antoninus Pius (138-160 AD). She was the daughter of pious Christians, Agathonikos and Politeas, who were responsible for her Christian education. They promised to devote their life, and their child’s’ life to Christianity if only God blessed them with a child. The child was born on Friday, hence her name, Paraskevi (Παρασκευή = Friday).
After the death of her parents, Paraskevi distributed all her assets to the poor and started wandering in Rome and the outskirts of the city, preaching the word of Christ. Her actions resulted in her imprisonment by the idolatrous emperor Antoninus Pius. Paraskevi was very charismatic, so the emperor promised her material goods and wealth if she began preaching idolatry
But when Agia Paraskeui did not change her ways, Antoninus tortured her. The Saint suffered greatly, but had the will not to submit to the pain. Antoninus then prepared a large cauldron of oil and tar, boiled the mixture and then had Paraskevi immersed in it. Miraculously she stood in it as if she being refreshed rather than burned.
The emperor thought that she was using witchery to keep the oil cool. Antoninus then approached the cauldron only to be blinded by the hot steam and searing emissions. At this moment the mighty emperor asked for the intervention of Agia Paraskevi to heal him from this affliction to which she responded: “Emperor, the Christian God is healing you from the blindness that was given to you as a punishment.”
Immediately, he regained his sight. Humbled by the miracle, he freed the Saint, allowing her to continue her missionary activity and ended all persecutions against the Christians throughout the Roman Empire.
From this day and forward, Agia Paraskevi is renowned for her ability to help people with visual ailments. After a long journey, she arrived in Tempi, where a pagan lord tortured her and eventually beheaded her. Her remains are now in Constantinople, where they are venerated by the faithful to this very day.