Cyprus Journal: Church visits in Nicosia
A rooftop view of Nicosia, Cyprus. Photo by Alex Christodoulides.
Editor’s Note: This week, the blog will be tagging along with fellow Cheapo Alex Christodoulides as she visits family in Cyprus.
NICOSIA, Cyprus—Nicosia has about a dozen churches of various styles and ages scattered through the walled part of the city, ranging from the Byzantine Chrysaliniotissa Church near the Green Line and the Famagusta Gate to the airy 19th-century Phaneromeni Church. Ayios Ioannis cathedral sounds larger than it is and has been through more change than its simple name suggests. Some, like Stavros tou Missirikou Church, have survived so many masters of Cyprus that their outward appearance would seem to indicate an identity crisis.
Chrysaliniotissa Church keeps a low profile, literally, with its solid, reliable barrel vaults. Although it’s on a street that bears its name, it’s pretty unobtrusive if you arrive there from a back road – no sky-high bell tower makes it easy to spot miles away.
Inside is a respite from the heat and glare, thanks to thick stone walls. The iconostasis here is unusually wide, making for a shallow but broad seating area. Take a look at the Virgin Mary and Christ icons, where worshippers often leave offerings in silver or wax to symbolize requests or thanks for prayers answered.
Ayios Ioannis cathedral
The oft-reinvented Ayios Ioannis sits inside a complex that includes the Archbishopric and the Byzantine Museum and Art Galleries. So small it seems you could stretch your arms and almost touch both walls, the church was built in 1662 on the site of a 14th-century Benedictine chapel dedicated to St. John the Evangelist which subsequently became a Greek Orthodox church honoring St. John the Theologian.
The single-aisle building’s lavishly painted walls and ceiling depict scenes from the Bible and the major saints of the Orthodox Church, with the throng of faces clearing for a huge Pantokrator above the elaborate iconostasis. Shooting photos and video is not allowed inside the church, and a sign at the door says tour groups get five minutes to take it all in, but on quiet days the caretaker will let you take a seat to admire as long as you like.
Stavros tou Missirikou Church
Stavros tou Missirikou Church was built in the 16th century as a medieval Orthodox house of worship, but was converted into a mosque in 1571 when the Ottomans took over the island. The church has some Byzantine, Gothic and Italian Renaissance architectural elements, and a minaret added to one side of the building documents its time as a mosque, which is a lot to cram into a building that seats maybe 30 people. No longer used for ecclesiastical services, the church often houses exhibits.
Nearby is Phaneromeni Church, the largest in the walled city. Its tall, unadorned white walls seem to direct the worshippers’ gaze to the massive icons near the entrances and the intricately carved, painted and gilded iconostasis.
Phaneromeni Church is another where the faithful have left a collection of wax items hooked on the iconostasis rail to symbolize prayers made or answered. A constant trickle of worshippers drops by to kiss the icons of favorite saints or offer a quick prayer for an urgent request as a benevolent-looking Pantokrator gazes down on them from on high.
About the author: Alex Christodoulides is one of those push-me-pull-you creatures known as a dual citizen. When not at home in New York City (where she is a freelance writer) or in Cyprus (where she is a freeloader taking advantage of her relatives’ hospitality), she is probably dreaming of a trip to someplace where vaccinations are required and Fodor’s fears to tread.