Easter is just days away now! Not only a major religious celebration in Cyprus but it also tends to mark the start of the tourist season. Together, they could also be seen as an appropriate time for the culturally curious Londa Hotel guest to take the opportunity and visit one or two of the island’s historic and truly impressive monasteries. There are several not far from Limassol, and each with their own fascinating story to tell.
Londa Hotel guests and visitors arriving in Cyprus in March are sure to discover that many on the island are in the middle of a 50-day Lent fast. The first day of Lent actually began on “Green Monday”, immediately after the annual Limassol Carnival, and which ends after midnight on Easter Saturday. With 78 per cent of the population belonging to the Greek Orthodox Church of Cyprus, the celebration of Easter is arguably the most important date in their religious calendar.
At the same time, around 140,000 tourists arrive in Cyprus on a Easter holiday break, seeking to relax in the warm Mediterranean air – currently around 20C – enjoy authentic local cuisine and take in the cultural sights. Both religious and non-religious visitors, alike, will find much to explore amongst the architectural variety and richly decorated interiors of the many historic monasteries still perfectly preserved after 2,000 years, which can be found all over the island.
It was in 45/46 AD that the apostles, Paul and Barnabas, arrived to make Cyprus the first Christian community outside the Holy Land. The early monasteries built on the island were intended for the safeguarding of a holy relic. One of the first was Stavrovouni Monastery, which today can be seen soaring 700 metres above the Nicosia-Limassol highway. Stavrovouni – which means “Mountain of the Cross” – was founded in 327 AD by Saint Helena, mother of the Roman Emperor, Constantine the Great.
Legend has it that her ship, which was forced to land on Cyprus to escape a storm, was carrying a piece of wood from the ‘True Cross’ brought from Jerusalem, along with a piece of rope still stained with blood. The piece of wood is said to be contained in a silver cross at the monastery, which has been stolen many times over the centuries. Stavrovouni is considered to be probably the most traditional and strictest of all the monasteries in Cyprus, where women are not permitted to enter, even today.
One of the best-known of the Byzantine monasteries in Cyprus is just a 30-40 minute drive from Limassol. Kykkos Monastery, with its stunning gilt façade of the holy saints, lies 20 km west of Pedoulas and towers some 1,318 metres high in the northwest Troodos mountains. Although the original structure was long ago destroyed by fire – the current building dates to 1831 – there is also an intriguing story behind the founding of the monastery at the end of the 11th century.
A local hermit had received a ‘vision’ that an icon of the Virgin Mary, painted by St. Luke, would arrive in Cyprus from the Byzantine capital, Constantinople – modern Istanbul, capital of Turkey. The hermit convinced a local governor that he should go to collect the icon despite suffering with an illness. However, the governor appeared to make a ‘miraculous’ full recovery after collecting the icon and persuaded the emperor to build a church near the hermit’s cave. Today, that same icon can be viewed within the monastery.
There’s a further and rather more ominous tale to be told about two curious objects placed to the right of the icon – a bronze arm, and a swordfish saw. The arm serves as a warning from the time when a visitor developed gangrene in his arm after trying to light a cigarette using one of the vigil lamps. The saw used for dissecting sword fish represents the gratitude of sailors who prayed to ‘Our Lady of Kykkos’ to save them from storms when at sea.
Timios Stavros Monastery
Travelling further inland to the centre of the island, and the heart of the Cyprus wine growing district, is Omodos village. Thought to be have been built in the early 4th century, at its centre is Timios Stavros Monastery with its magnificent sunlit courtyard and also containing an astonishing relic – said to be a piece of the Holy Rope that tied the hands of Christ to the cross.
The story of its founding is equally fascinating. According to tradition, one night the inhabitants of the neighbouring villages saw bushes on fire in the area where the monastery stands today. When the villagers went to investigate early next morning there was no sign that the bushes had been on fire. Over several nights the burning bushes continued to be seen so the men started to dig up the earth, only to discover a small cave in which they found a cross. A chapel was then built over the cave as a sacred place for the adoration of the cross, which was eventually converted into a Monastery.
Every monastery on the island is sure to have its own founding traditions and stories for pilgrim, cultural visitor and holiday tourist, alike. It may take some considerable time to visit them all! However, we must also mention the small monastery of Trooditissa on the southern slopes of the Troodos Mountains, around 5 – 10 km from Platres, also one of the wine-making villages. The 13th century monastery is a popular place of pilgrimage for childless couples who wish for a child, and who offer prayers to the holy Icon of Virgin Mary to give them hope.
All the management and staff at Londa Hotel wish you a happy and peaceful Easter. We hope you will check back here soon to find out what’s happening at the Hotel, and in and around Limassol.