Panagia Aggeloktisti Church

Apr 16, 2019 | Religion & Pilgrims

The Angelbuilt Church of the Virgin Mary

The church of Panagia Aggeloktisti is situated in the Larnaka district, in the north-western end of the village of Kiti. Just 12 km from the city of Larnaka and the ancient city of Kition. It is a domed structure and built on a cross-in-square plan. The church, as it stands today, dates to the 11th century and it was built over the ruins of a 5th century early Christian basilica. The semi-circular synthronon of which survives in the bema behind the altar is of the 11th-century church. The church is inscribed in the UNESCO World heritage list awaiting to be granted the recognition it deserves as a World Heritage Site.

The construction of the early basilica (5th Century)

According to local tradition, the church (Dedicated to the Virgin) was founded by the residents of the Ancient Kingdom of Kition (modern-day Larnaka). The church was constructed in the 5th century AD by the locals who moved to Kiti to escape the Arab invasions. While building the church, they realized that the foundations had moved to a different location overnight. Tradition says that the villagers witnessed an army of angels were coming at night to build it; Hence the name (Αγγελό= Angel, κτιστης= Built). The early Byzantine Basilica was a wooden roof structure like all basilicas in Cyprus of the time.

The magnificent mosaic (6th Century)

The early Byzantine Basilica featured a unique half dome wall mosaic, which is considered to be one of the most significant wall mosaics of the Early Christian art. In keeping with the Orthodox pictorial program, the mosaic depicts the Virgin Mary between the Archangels Michael and Gabriel with the Child on her arm. As the Mother of God stands facing the beholder on a richly decorated footstool with Jesus on her left arm. The mosaic is regarded as Hodegetria type.

Meaning and Symbolism

Hodegetria is one of the many titles of dignity with which Mary is honored in the East. It means that she shows humankind the right path, guiding them, and goes back to an old Marian Hymn. Jesus holds a scroll in His left hand and raises His right hand in a gesture of blessing. Although He is on Mary’s arm and should be turned slightly to the side, He is portrayed facing the observer. He is the Ruler who proclaims the True Law.

The fact that now the portrayal of Mary with her Child became canonical for the upper end of the room, the apse conch is closely linked with the violent disputes about the nature of Christ. The depiction of the physical mother of the Son of God Incarnate sets down the theological concept of Orthodoxy in a Picture: Christ is man and God, and Mary is the Mother of God, not only of the Mortal Jesus but of the Devine World. In so far the inscription ‘Hagia Maria,’ Saint Mary, above her halo makes an outdated impression, but we find such anachronisms in East Roman at until well into the middle Byzantine period.

The destruction of the early basilica (7th – 8th Ceturies)

Like many early Cypriot Basilicas, this basilica was destroyed around the 7th & 8th centuries by the Arab invasions against the Byzantine empire. Miraculously only the Apse survived. This was only possible thanks to the neutrality negotiated between the Arabs and the Byzantines. The neutrality prevented the iconoclastic to destroy any further religious artifacts on the island, including the Apse

The re-birth of the Church (11th – 14th Ceturies)

The church was constructed on the ruins of the early Byzantine Basilica on the 11th century. On the 12th century, two more chapels where added dedicated to Cosmas and Damian. Lastly, a Latin Chapel was added at the expense of the French nobleman Gibelet, where he and his family are buried.

The church is decorated with wall paintings of the 11th century, a wooden iconostasis of the 16th century and many icons dating from the 13th to the 19th century, all of which are of historical importance. These suggest the diachronic artistic and religious connections of Cyprus with the Byzantine world, the assimilation of creative elements from different cultures (e.g., Byzantine and Frankish), and the diachronic importance of the church already in antiquity.

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