Saint Neophytos 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.
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.
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, 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.