Cypriots have always been religious people. In ancient times, they believed and worshiped
their Great Mother Goddess. She was the goddess of fertility, life, and nature. With the Greeks’ arrival, the Cypriots shifted their goddess’s love to Aphrodite, the goddess of love and beauty.
Then Christianity arrived on the island. Cyprus is one of the first countries to become Christian. Since then, the majority of Cypriots are still Orthodox Christian. However, interestingly enough, their love for their goddess still prevails. Cypriots have shifted their love for Aphrodite to the Virgin Mary.
In every corner of Cyprus, you can find a church or even a chapel of the Virgin Mary.
Although, Virgin Mary is indeed worshipped religiously everywhere in Cyprus, saints and apostles are also celebrated on their specific days. Interestingly, similarly to how every god or semi-god in ancient Greece had a temple and was celebrated for a different reason, saints in Cyprus are protectors of specific people, occupations, or other matters such as harvesting, weather etc.
For instance, my name is Lydia and of course there is a Saint Lydia. Saint Lydia was a Greek woman and was the first to convert into Christianity in Europe. In addition, she is apparently the protector of textile merchants and tailors.
So, for this reason, Cypriots depending on their occupation, lifestyle, habits, or in cases of health issues, go to different monasteries, churches, cathedrals or chapels to pray.
Another interesting fact is that again like in the heroes and gods from ancient times, saints have their own stories, myths and legends. Thus, almost every monastery, cathedral, church or chapel has its own story. Here are the top 3 monasteries in Cyprus that everyone should visit.
Timios Stavros Monastery – Omodos
Timios Stavros translates into the Holy Cross. The monastery of the Holy Cross at Omodos
holds a piece of the True Cross Jesus got crucified, and part of the rope Romans tied him with on the cross. Queen Elena, mother of Constantine the Great, while on her journey to retrieve the Holy Cross from Jerusalem, had a vision of the cross hovering over the Troodos mountain. So, she embarked on a journey to establish the monastery at Omodos and other monasteries and churches on the island.
The monastery at Omodos, like many other religious and ancient sites on the island, went
through many damages because of looters, colonisers, or natural hazards. The construction of the current monastery dates back to the 19th century. But there are remains from Queen
Elena’s time who o stayed at the monastery for a short period.
A fascinating legend of Queen Elena is her contribution to the island’s massive population of cats. Today, the island probably has more cats than humans. It is said that Queen Elena brought cats with her on the island to help extinguish all the snakes that were terrorising Cyprus’s population.
The emperor of Byzantium, Alexios Komnenos, founded the monastery of Kykkos in the 11th century. In the area of the monastery, a hermit monk Esaias was living in a cave. One day, the Byzantium governor of the island was hunting in Esaias’ cave area and lost his way. Surprisingly, he stumbled upon Esaias and asked him for directions. However, the monk took an oath to live in silence and did not answer the governor’s request. Infuriated by his silence, the governor punished the monk.
However, after he finally arrived at his home, he fell with a severe illness. No doctor could cure the governor. The governor was desperate and was willing to do anything to be cured. Eventually, he remembered the hermit monk living in the mountains. He thought he may have been to harsh towards the old monk, thus he decided to visit him and ask for forgiveness. After finding the monk, he desperately begged for his forgiveness. The monk though not only did he forgave the governor, he also prayed for his health.
Miraculously, the governor recovered right after the monk’s prayer. Thankful, he asked Esaias what he wanted as compensation. Esaias then wished for an icon of the Virgin Mary from the imperial palace of Byzantium in Constantinople. The governor wishing to help his saviour, travelled with Esaias to Constantinople to visit the emperor Alexios Komnenos. At that time, the emperor’s daughter was sick. Thus, the hermit once again, thanks to his prayers, he miraculously saved her. Later, thanks to his miracles during his visit to the empire’s capital, his wish was granted.
After returning back home to Cyprus, the emperor established the monastery and within it until today lies the icon of Virgin Mary that Esaias wished for. The icon of the Virgin Mary was created by Apostle Luca when the Virgin Mary was alive.
Panagia Trooditissa Monastery
Panagia Troodotissa translates to Virgin Mary of Troodos. So, Panagia Trooditissa is a monastery dedicated to Virgin Mary and is located at Mount Troodos. In fact, Panagia Trooditissa stands higher than any other monastery of Cyprus. During the iconclastic crisis in the 8th century, a monk hided himself in a cave which today is known as the cave of Trooditissa. With him he had an icon of Virgin Mary. He stayed in the cave for 25 years.
Two hundred years later, a shepherd from the area saw a glowing light floating. Bravely, he followed the light. In the end, he noticed the light was a warm flame burning at the entrance of a cave. As he approached the flame, he then found the icon of Virgin Mary the lone monk saved during the iconoclastic crisis. Thus, a monastery was build after his finding.
Unfortunately, the original monastery was completely destroyed after the Ottomans burned it down. The present-day monastery was build in the 19th and 20th century. Thousands of people visit the monastery every year, Specifically, it is said that the icon of Virgin Mary is thaumaturgistic and is known for its wonders to childless married couples who wish to have a child.