Saint Neophytos Monastery

Saint Neophytos Monastery

Saint Neophytos Monastery

The Monastery

Saint Neophytos Monastery (Greek: Ιερά Μονή Αγίου Νεοφύτου) lies 15 km west of Paphos, and is one of the best-known monasteries in Cyprus. Saint Neophytos founded it in the 12th century. The property is currently a museum consisting of the Engleistra (Place of Seclusion, built in a natural cave, with a small chapel) and the Monastery.

 

The church is well-known for its unique frescoes that are nowadays considered to be among the most impressive examples of Komnenian style art. They date back to the 12th century, and most of them are painted by Theodoros Apsevdis. 

 

The saint

Agios Neophytos is, without a doubt, the most famous ascetic among Cyprus’s saints. In the past, many miracles have attributed to his grave, which opened in 1750. Neophytos was born in Kato Drys, a village near Lefkara and died around 1215.

He was the most productive ecclesiastical author at the turn of the 12th to the 13th century. His works are an inexhaustible source of history of the island. At the monastery, you can find the original manuscripts of his writings. There are many more nonetheless in places such as The National Library of Paris and places of similar esteem.

History

Saint Neophytos turned the natural cave into a place of seclusion which consisted of two areas. The first area included a small church dedicated to the Timio Stravro (Holy Cross), and the second part was the room he lived in. Within the room, you can also find his tomb, which he carved himself. This room is connected to the altar of the chapel.

He confined himself in the Enkleistra until 1170, when he was ordained priest by the Bishop of Pafos, Vasilios Kinnamos, spreading his fame throughout the island. Many monks gathered around him, forming a monastic community, for which Saint Neophytos composed the “Τυπική Διαθήκη” (Typical testament). His testament comprised a set of rules related to the administration of the monastery.

The Saint’s need for serenity and seclusion led him to carve another Enkleistra higher on the rock, above the old chapel. He carved another small chapel dedicated to Agios Ioannis Prodromos (Saint John the Baptist) next to his new cell.

Of the two Engleistras of Agios Neophytos, the older is the most interesting as it’s walls are adorned with frescoes. According to the inscription in the Saint’s cell, the frescoes in the Palaia Engleistra and the bema of the chapel of Timios Stavros were completed by the painter Theodoros Apsevdis in 1183, who a few years later also painted the Panagia tou Arakos in Lagoudera.

The Saint is depicted twice in the frescoes. Sometime during the beginning of the 13th century, the chapel’s frescoes were replaced. Only a few original pieces have survived. The 13th-century frescoes, which replaced those of Apsevdis, reveal a very different style, characterized by the almost exaggerated schematic rendering of the forms.

The Agios Neophytos Monastery was built during the beginning of the 16th century, and it’s a barrel-vaulted, three-aisled, domed basilica. The original church was completely decorated with frescoes. However, a large part of them was destroyed from 1585 to 1611.

Today

Today, you can visit the small chapel with the saint’s room, his tomb, and the altar. Above the hill, is the newer room of the saint and the chapel of Agios Ioannis Prodromos.

Today only a few monks stay in the monastery which has a museum featuring many religious items like manuscripts, holy utensils, old books priestly garments, jewelry and a collection of Cypriot pottery and maps on display. Every year in January the monastery holds a two-day religious fair where you can find Cypriot crafts art pieces and monastic goods for sale.

Panagia tou Araka Monastery

Panagia tou Araka Monastery

Panagia tou Araka Monastery

The Monastery of the Virgin Mary of Araka

The church stands in the center of the Troodos mountain range, between the villages of Lagoudera and Saranti. Panagia tou Araka is one of the ten Byzantine churches of the Troodos mountains that have been granted the world cultural heritage status by UNESCO.

Like other churches in the region, the church of Panagia tou Araka used to be a monastery church of a monastery complex which was erected in the second half of the 12th century, at a time which monastic life was flourishing in Cyprus. The monastic life survived until the 19th century and has been abandoned ever since.

The church is well-known for its unique frescoes that are nowadays considered to be among the most impressive examples of Komnenian style art. They date back to the 12th century, and most of them are painted by Theodoros Apsevdis. 

Traditions & Origins

According to a tradition, in the Byzantine era, a nobleman of the region named Leon Afthentis saw a hawk flying in circles while he was hunting and thought that there would be prey in the area. While he was hunting, he found the icon of Panagia (Virgin Mary), where the monastery was later built. According to an inscription above the northern entrance of the temple, the church was decorated at the expense of the Nobleman.

The origin of the name “Araka” (which translates to “Pea”) is unclear. It’s most commonly attributed back to the discovery of the icon of Panagia in the area in which peas were cultivated centuries ago.

According to an alternative tradition preserved by Barksy, a Russian monk who visited the monastery in 1735, is that the name Arakas comes from “ιέρακας” or “γεράκι” which translates to hawk.

The Architecture of the Church

The Monastery is a single-aisled vaulted building with three niches in each of the side walls and a dome rising over the center. The dome is additionally fortified with a smaller roof, to protect it from the elements.

The church has a shed roof, a characteristic of many churches of Troodos mountain.

The Frescoes of the Church

The paintings of the church are substantial examples of Comnenian style art, dating in the middle Byzantine period in Cyprus (1992 A.D.). The frescoes are comparable to those prevailing throughout Greece, the Balkans, and Russia. The church was painted mainly by Theodoros Apsevdis. The apse of the bema is of a different style, and therefore it is believed that another artist probably painted it.

The frescoes depict the Pantocrator, the ultimate symbol of the Day of Judgement, the Angels in medallions, the Prophets, the Annunciation of the Virgin, the Evangelists, and many others. Also, a few frescoes in the church date from the 14th and 15th centuries when the church was extended. They show among others the Hymn-writers Cosmas and John of Damascus.

A rare illustration is the portraits of the seven Cypriot saints who embellish the semi- wall of the arch. The Virgin in the above the northern entrance and some other depictions belong to the 14th century. The last decoration of the church took place in the 17th century on the northern outer wall as well as a wood-carved icon dating back to 1673.

The frescoes remain intact, which gives them a unique status amongst Byzantine art. The frescoes are in line with the trends of the time in Constantinople and around the Byzantine empire. Considering that Constantinople (the capital of Byzantium) has almost none surviving pieces of art, makes these frescoes even more valuable.

Agia Paraskevi Church

Agia Paraskevi Church

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

Historical sigificance

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

Earlier History

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.

 

Panagia Aggeloktisti Church

Panagia Aggeloktisti Church

Panagia Aggeloktisti Church

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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