Monday, May 12, 2014

Kykkos Monastery

The Kykkos Monastery (also known as Panagia tou Kykkou Monastery) is located about 20 km west of Pedoulas Village, in the Marathasa region in the Troodos mountains, within the Nicosia district of Cyprus. 

This monastery is considered to be one of the wealthiest and most well-known monasteries in Cyprus.  The Kykkos Monastery was founded in the 11th century, by Byzantine emperor Alexios Komnenos.

The original monastery burned down many times, so there are no remains of the original Kykkos Monastery.   In 1365, a massive fire destroyed the monastery's main church, as well as many documents and relics.  Shortly after, Queen Eleonora (the wife of Peter I Lusignan) requested the monastery to be reconstructed.
Other fires in 1541, 1751, and 1813 destroyed various part of the monastery, including the library.  This is why there's little written evidence of the monastery's early history.  However, the Byzantine tradition of writing and decorating books continued throughout the years.

The main church of the monastery is a basilica, dating back to the 18th century, and the current buildings surrounding the main church were built between 1700 and 1755.

The frescoes in the main part of the restored monastery church were painted by George Georgiou, and the frescoes in the other monastery buildings were completed by Cypriot, Greek Romanian, Serbian, and Bulgarian painters.  Philippos Kepolas finished the monastery mosaics.

Towards the end of the 19th century, a bell tower was built nearby, and it's visible from the Kykkos Monastery courtyard.  The bell tower has five bells, and the heaviest bell weighs 1,280 kilograms.  The Kykkos Monastery Bell Tower is situated along the way to Makarios' Tomb at Throni Hill, which will be featured in an upcoming blog post.


According to a legend, the history of the Kykkos Monastery began with a Cypriot hermit named Esaias (or Isaiah) was living in a cave on the mountain of Kykkos.  Around the same time, Manuel Boutoumites was the Byzantine governor in Cyprus.

Boutoumites typically lived in Nicosia, yet spent the summers in the Marathasa region, due to the heat.  Nicosia is extremely hot in the summer, so living in the mountains in the summers was common during ancient times, which is still a common practice for Cypriots today.  However, in the Middle Ages, the privilege to escape the heat to the mountains was only reserved for the upper class in Cyprus.

During his summer trip, Boutoumites got lost while hunting and met Esaias.  According to tradition, Boutoumites asked him to help find his way back to the village; however, Esaias wasn't interested in worldly items and refused to help.  Boutoumites became angry and was cruel to Esaias.

Soon after, when Boutoumites returned to Nicosia, the legend states that he became ill with an incurable illness.  Boutoumites remembered how he treated Esaias and asked God to cure him, so he could personally ask Esaias for forgiveness.

According to tradition, Esaias decided God requested him to ask Boutoumites to bring the Icon of the Virgin Mary (also known as the Icon of Theotokos) that was painted by the Apostle Luke, which was then located in Constantinople, to Cyprus.  Boutoumites thought this was impossible, but he agreed to travel with Esaias to Constantinople to try.

During their visit to Constantinople, before Boutoumites and Esaias were able to ask Emperor Alexios III Angelos about the Icon of the Virgin Mary, the emperor's daughter became ill with the same illness that Boutoumites had.

While visiting the Emperor, Boutoumites shared his recent encounter with Esaias, as well as claimed that the daughter would be healed, if the Emperor sent the Icon of the Virgin Mary to Cyprus.  According to the legend, Emperor Angelos agreed and his daughter was instantly healed.

However, the Emperor didn't want to part with this particular icon, so he ordered a painter to create an exact copy to send to Cyprus.  Then, due to a dream, Emperor Angelos was compelled to send the original to Cyprus.

When Emperor Angelos sent the icon to Cyprus in the legend, Emperor Alexios Komnenos provided funds to construct a new church and monastery on the Kykkos mountain where the original Icon of the Virgin Mary was to be kept.  And the Kykkos Monastery was built.

The Icon of the Virgin Mary is still supposed to be located at the Kykkos Monastery, but it remains hidden behind a protective covering.  The tradition claims that whoever looks at the icon will be blinded, so it's never viewed. 

After the monastery was built, Esaias was the first abbot, and he drafted rules for the monks living at this monastery.

During the 12th century, the icon type of Kykkotissa was adopted by the Greek Orthodox culture.  Kykkotissa is an iconographic style that shows the Virgin Mary with her child.  After the 18th century, the faces in these paintings were veiled, so people wouldn't view their faces.

Archbishop Makarios III, the first president of Cyprus, served as a novice at the Kykkos Monastery.  Due to his request, Makarios is buried at Throni Hill, which is about 3 km west of the monastery.  Throni Hill and Makarios' Tomb will be featured in an upcoming blog post. 

Within the monastery, there's a Byzantine museum called the Museum of the Holy Monastery of Kykkos (or more commonly called the Kykkos Museum).  This museum includes antiquities, frescoes, icons, woodcarvings, manuscripts, books, etc.

According to the Kykkos Museum brochure, "The museum, a unique cultural and historical institution is perhaps the only one of its kind in the world.  The vast collection of magnificent antiquities, items of art and treasures of the museum reveal the history of Cyprus, the grandeur of the history of the Monastery and of the Church of Cyprus in general.  Housed within the monastery's complex and having been constructed on modern technical specification with rich interior decoration, it is a piece of art itself.  The environment and its rare and priceless exhibits in conjunction with the appropriate lighting and the background byzantine music compose a fascinating atmosphere that will take you centuries back to early Christian, Byzantine and post-Byzantine times.  A visit to the museum will, no doubt, fill your soul with feelings and emotions from the past and will enrich your mind with historical knowledge and inspiration."

The Kykkos Monastery is popular with tourists, and it's worth visiting by both tourists and locals, particularly those planning to explore the area.  Near the monastery, there are several tourist shops and restaurants.

Site: Kykkos Monastery and Kykkos Museum. 

Category: Monastery and Museum. 

Location: About 20 km from Pedoulas Village in the Troodos mountains, within the Nicosia district of Cyprus. 

Phone Number: 22942736 and 22942435. 

Operating Hours: 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM on Monday to Sunday, during winter months.   10:00 AM to 6:00 PM on Monday to Sunday, during summer months.

Entrance Fee: Free, yet there's a €5,00 entrance fee to the museum. 

Date of Visit: 2009-2011.

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