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Δευτέρα, 28 Μαΐου 2007


After the crusaders captured Cyprus in 1191 the Catholic church began to displace the Orthodox from its age old authority. "The state of of our country" wrote monk Neophytos, "is now no better than that of a stormy sea lashed by a gale "The older church lost much of its property, and its Bishops, now reduced to four from thirteen, were exiled to distant parts of the island. Supported by the successive Popes and by the Crusader occupation of Constantinople, the Latins dominated both politically and economically. The Orthodox withdrew and bided their time. Their monks took to remote places. While the cities of the plains, under a Western aristocracy built cathedrals in a hot house flowering the Gothic, the Orthodox monasteries grew up in the wilds of the Trodoos, whose secluded valleys were filled with churches. Because they were not envied, they survived, and from this time to that of Archbishop Makarios the Church has stood sentry to the nation's spirit and its leaders have been spokesmen of the people. The high Gothic slendour mesmerized the Orthodox. The meanest village masons copied its carving, introduced pointed arches, wall-sepulchres, rib vaults and even window tracery. All over the island many small churches with rectangular naves remain as witness to the alien spell, yet they remained untouched by its heart. The Greeks juggled with the motifs and design, but they did not share the Gothic spirit. This strained, and aspiring architecture differed too much of the spatial calm of their own. It is the cry of men cut off from God. The Orthodox found the Latin mind tortured and legalistic, viewing the soul too much in the colours of darkness and damnation. To the Greeks the cycle of sin, confession and forgiveness was rather exhausting, and their Orthodox faith was more of an instrument of praise and salvation, than a theater of human guilt and redemption. After the Turks had over run the island, the Orthodox Church, was once more in the ascendant, Roman Catholism vanished almost overnight. It became clear that its influence had merely been a surface one, like the gorgeous Italian dresses which clothed the Virgin in contemporary icons. Into this defensive world - the Trodoos mountains - I was now climbing. The plains, with their flow of merchandise and conquerors, their cities, their vulnerability, lay far below, and the land had risen to hardness and quiet. At the eastern most spur of the massif sits Pano Lefkara. The white soil of this town was once good for vines, and its lace considered unique and its people cunning. In summer the women still sit out of doors sewing the elaborate Lefkara lace, the same which Leonardo da Vinci, who visited Cyprus in 1481, bought for the alter of Milan Cathedral. From Pano Lefkara to the great Monastery of Macheras is no more then fifteen miles. The older monasteries of the Orthodox world lay claims to supernatural beginnings, and generally an Icon is responsible. Macheras was build around a holy painting preserved in a cave, with a sword buried in front of it. The monastery of Chryssoroyiatissa, enshrined an icon which had floated over the sea from Asia Minor, and the Virgin of Trooditissa was found bathed in an eerie glow on the mountainside, awaiting a fraternity to care for her. "Shepherds discovered her a thousand years ago" said a monk, shadowing me through the monastic church. "Here at Trooditissa she is older than anything else. She was painted you see, by St. Luke. "He spoke in a shy, wheedling way, as if expecting contradiction-perhaps some rational minded tourist had once refuted him. "While he was not doctoring, Ayios Lukas was painting. "Encouraged by my silence he added "Our Virgin may even have been done from life". "When they built the monastery farther along the mountains, Our foundress pulled it down during the night. She wanted it here, where there was a spring of water. In early Christian times many churches were built on the sites of temples, either to exorcise them or harness the sanctity of the place. Trooditissa Monastery may be one of these, its Virgin replacing that older goddess whose features are embarrassingly discernible.For it is still sometimes called Aphroditessa Monastery, and its Virgin is well known as a bringer of fertility to women. "Even the name of the old goddess" wrote Frazer in "The Golden Bough" is retained in some parts of the island; for in more than one chapel the Cypriot peasants adore the mother of Christ under the title of Panayia Aphroditessa. "No-one has looked on her real face for two hundred years" said the monk, smoothing the veil covering the icon. "It is better like that. Sometimes the blaze from heaven is too bright. "For an Icon is no mere portrait. It is a shadow of its archetype in heaven, a window through which the divine is looking out and by which the worshipper can caze into paradise. To some, the very wood and oil and eggwhite are a living incarnation of the saint portrayed. Several of the Virgins are believed to have miraculously painted themselves, and others, it is said, she left behind her after visitations. Occasionally saints too have appeared before their artists and stepped into the waiting tablet, limning themselves onto its wood. Such icons, and hundreds of others, become legendary for their miracles. They burn with celestial light. They weep, they fly, they spurt blood, they are washed up on the tide, dug out of the earth, handed down from heaven. And with a little coaxing and adoration, they induce rain. But above all they effect cure. Conceived in time when medicine could do little, they once had to cope single-handed with the fears and sickness of half the Christian world. Cyprus alone is filled with these immemorial doctors whose bedside manner is one of numinous and infallible streigth. They nestle propitiously behind spinneys of candles and drip with ex-votos: silver arms, legs, ears, eyes, hordes of coins and necklaces, wax statuettes. They cater for even trivial ailments. St. Yennadios of Moro Nero (village in Paphos), who was frozen to death by the Cypriot winter, can cure the common cold; St. Antipas soothes tooth-ache; St. Prokopios will banish boils; and the lion-riding St. Mamas at Troulloi (village in Larnaca),as well as dealing with tax matters, will relieve sore throats. A host of other icons-some obscure, others known all over the island and beyond-are sovereign against more severe afflictions: for epilepsy you must make a pilgrimage to St. George of Gypsou. For dumbness to the virgin of Glossa, for leprosy to the Christ of Chrysorroyiatissa, for insanity to the Archangel Michael of Lemona (Village in Paphos). The virgin of Macheras heals wounds, while St. Andreas ministers to blindness, indeed to almost anything, and guards those at sea (his shrine in the Karpas Peninsula used to be cluttered with wax votive boats). The Virgin of the White Hill at Pyla (village in Larnaca) cures ophthalmia by loaning a silver eye to her petitioners. The Panayia Zalagiotissa subdues various veins. St. John the Baptist, in his ruined chapel at Silikou, will heal malaria in children if they are rolled up and down the aisle. The oil burning besides the bones and icon of the Saints Eliophotes eases rheumatism, and Panayia Aphentrika dispels the disease of any youth uninhibited enough to undress outside the west door of her chapel and smear his whole body with candle grease. Once in the middle of Holy Liturgy, St. Heracleides of Tamassos, even cast out a demon; his petitioner, a small child fell on the the ground and vomited out the ghoul in the shape of two crabs and a snake, which were hung up in the church for the edification of the faithful. The whole island is scattered with protective Virgins, heirs to the nubile Aphrodite, who not only ensure fertility, but ease childbirth and increase milk at the breast. Panayia Galatoussa will even renew the milk of goats and cows. In fact the Virgin and saints are co-opted into a variety of activities which might be thought beneath their attention. St. Marina of Mesa Chorio (village in Paphos) for instance is sovereign against nagging wives, and St. George of the Black Hill (monastery in Larnaca) reactivates broody hens. There is no cranny of domestic and emotional life into which a saint may not help fully if you pray. Many are the saint Georges who will return lost children and animals, and the Virgin of the Phaneromeni near Temblos points out suitable sons-in-laws to anxious mothers. Both Moslem and Christian. Strangest of all, the Panayia of Chrysoroyiatissa, like an echo of the sanctuary granded by some pagan gods, has compassion for criminals, who will pray to escape arrest, or send their families to plead for a light sentence. Many of the icons which, when pressed too hard, have taken a violet and sudden revenge. Like the statues of ancient gods which they replaced, they are only slighted at peril. They wither arms, and strike men dumbor blind, lopping off the hands or noses of interfering Saracens. They can become immovably heavy and stick fast to walls- the icon of the Virgin of Yiolou (village in Paphos) has repeatedly refused to be taken to the fields to bring rain. Some, armoured in silver or veiled, assail those who attempt to gaze them, and broken vows bring a terrible nemesis. The Panayia Eleousa of Kykko Monastery, which is the most famous on the island, has been veiled, and incased in silver for two hundred years without a human eye to see her. She punishes horribly anybody attempting to gaze at her. St. Andreas of the karpas has been known to reimpose the blindness he cure, and if there are thieves in his church he can cause the doors to disappear, enclusing them in the black walls. But most of these touchy, even vindictive icons belong to the Holy Mother. The Virgin of Laghoudera, killed a Turk who tried to take out her eyes, with hail-stones the size of cricket balls, and Panayia Vlacherniotissa frighted away intruders by boiling a whole river. The Eleousa of Salamiou (village in Paphos) has rounded snakes to avenge her, while the Virgin of Klirou punishes ingratitude by striking down cattle, crops, and even children. Our Lady of Macheras struck dumb the Lusignan Queen Alix d-Ibelin; and when a painter persisted in retouching her icon, the Virgin of Lophou village killed him stone dead-a healthy warning to restorers.

From the book "Journey into Cyprus"
By Colin Thubron - 1975

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