By Monica Bradswell
This document herein presented is an article written by Monica Bradswell in the Eastern Churches Quarterly in 1939 after her short stay in the island of Cyprus. We are furnishing her article verbatim without changing even the misspelled words and without any alteration or correction to grammar or syntax. The views and opinions expressed in this document do not reflect those of MARI or the JMS, but rather of the author alone.
"Being fortunate enough to spend eighteen months in Cyprus, I was glad of the opportunity given me by the Antiquities Department there to go about my favourite occupation, the preservation of mediaeval wall-paintings. I had, however, to limit my activities to work in those churches which have become government property, or which do not belong to the Orthodox Church of Cyprus.
Most of the paintings have at some time been more or less defaced by the Turks after their conquest of the island in the late sixteenth century; others, in ruined churches exposed to the weather, are dropping off the walls. Being given as assistant, a Maronite boy of eighteen who spoke English well, we planned an excursion together into the Maronite Villages, which I was anxious to see, to clean and restore the wall paintings and eikons in their churches. I easily got permission to do this from the priest at Famagusta who is vicar for the whole island, under a bishop who lives in the Lebanon where most of his flock are, and from the priests in the different villages we visited who seemed delighted to have their paintings preserved.
The Maronite Villages lie across the northern part of the island following the Kyrenia range of mountains. A great many of the villages, formerly Maronite, have lapsed, owing to the fierce persecution in the time of the Turkish occupation.
I travelled to Kormakiti from Nicosia in the post car; the red-painted post ox at the back, complete with G.R. and crown, held my luggage, while the post bags for the various villages en route lay on the floor and were unceremoniously thrown out on to the road as we reached their respective destinations.
Kormakiti, the principal Maronite village, with over nine hundred inhabitants, all Maronite, lies at the north-west extremity of the island. It is peculiar in having a language of its own not understood elsewhere. It has a large new church, the money to build it saved in the course of years by the villagers themselves. There is also an older church still in use by the Franciscan Sisters who run the village school. Besides a small fifteenth-century church of our Lady a little way out of the village, used only once a year for Mass on the feast of the Assumption. This little church was entirely covered inside with a contemporary series of paintings, representing scenes from the Passion, on the vault and walls -- paintings which had once been fine, but terribly blackened by the candles which the people still light there; and not only candles, but tins of oil with strips of cotton for wicks which flare up and blacken the walls and roof, so that my efforts to restore them were not so successful as I could have wished. They are. However, a good deal more visible than they were, all the subjects are recognisable, and we were able to fix the falling plaster to the walls. The Cypriots have an unfortunate habit of sticking a candle on to the surface of the painting of one whom they desire to honour, and setting light to it, with most disastrous results to the painting, whether on wall or eikon on wood. A one time beautiful, large eikon of our Lady in this church is now consumed to a cinder, only her face remaining and the halo of her Child.
In the sacristy of the large church are preserved a few eikons, these I mended and cleaned. One large one of their patron St. George is of good quality.
It was the month of May, and in the evenings the whole village resorted to this church for the May devotions to our Lady. These consisted of rosary and litany in Greek, followed by a peculiar ceremony. The priest, vested in a stole, facing the congregation, holds up an eikon of our Lady above his head while he sings, alternately with the choir of boys, a hymn in her praise in Greek, at the end making the sign of the corss with the picture above the heads of the people. They sometimes have Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament given in the same way, the priest elevating the Blessed Sacrament for the whole time the Hymn is sung.
I next visited Karpasha, my boy's own village and a most charming little place situated on a high plateau close tot he mountains. Here the church is partly old, partly rebuilt. The chief treasures of this church are two fine old rood crosses that hang on the walls, one of the seventeenth century rather characteristically Cypriot of a rustic type, the other Byzantine in style, an accomplished painting, the figure of our Lord in sombre colouring on a black and gold cross with the emblems of the Evangelists in the extremities. The date, according to Professor Soteriou of Athens, is fifteenth century.
After cleaning and preserving all the eikons, the crosses and the wall-painting, I was interested to see, on the Sunday, what the village people's reaction would be, and was glad to see their interest in the eikons when they crowded around them after the Liturgy. It is a thousand pities that in most of the churches the traditional eikons are pushed away into any hole or corner and the most terrible plaster statues put up in their place. I suspect that if the eikons become objects of interest to visitors and more attention is drawn to them, the people will gladly go back to them, and that they merely follow their priests in thinking the statues more up to date and Western.
The Sunday Liturgy was at 6. Alas, I overslept, and when I got to the
church at a quarter past, was touched, if rather embarrassed, to find the
whole village waiting outside and the bell ringer waiting to ring the last
bell till I should appear. I was given the best chair and the only kneeler,
and the Liturgy began. The people all sit on little squat chairs, about
a foot high. In some churches I saw they had stools or logs of wood upturned
to sit on. The men were all in front, and the women at the back, the men
singing the Arabic chant which goes on almost continuously. The pax was
given the whole way round the church, to the server, the minister, the
men, and lastly the to the women and children. This ceremony consists of
the giver laying his hands over the clasped hands of the receiver.
The village is partly Maronite and partly Turkish. The ancient Byzantine church of St. Jon Kokinokhromos, one and a half miles from the village, has recently been rebuilt by the Maronites.
The only monastery still in occupation by Maronite monks is St. Elias, near St. Marina and about six miles from Karpasha. Here there are four monks.
In a beautiful valley, on the slopes of the mountains to the east of Kyrenia, below the Orthodox monastery of St. Chrysostomos and now belonging to it, lies the ruined church of Our Lady, Koutsovendis. The mukhtar of Karpasha told me the village ceased to be Maronite the church was left to fall into ruins. It consists of two churches joined together, the earlier and smaller roofless. The interior is completely painted, the east part in an accomplished Byzantine manner, probably of the early fourteenth century, the west parts and narthex with large standing figures of saints, rather later and in a more Syrian style. The earlier paintings are a series of the Passion of our Lord: on the north wall are recognisable the Crucifixion and Deposition, and below them, the finest painting in the church, the Entombment with, the west, a fragment which probably formed part of a Harrowing of Hell. There have been more scenes on the south wall but they have perished. The east wall, on either side of the apse are figures of saints; on the north, St. Symeon Sylites, and on the south another saint on a pillar, destroyed. The St. Symeon is very fine, the head and face full of character. Round the apse are figures of bishops and patriarchs, in the usual Byzantine manner. I cleaned and preserved all these paintings but could not do those in the larger, domed church adjoining as I had no scaffold.
The Hegumenos of St. Chrysostomos and his mother were extremely kind in putting us both up in the monastery.
Vouno, a village next to Koutsovendis, is still partly Maronite. St. Romanos, the Maronite church, has a Liturgy only once a year, on the 4th of September. There are several fine eikons. "St. George, dated 1698; B.V.M. and Christ both by the same painter, dated 1690; St Romanos, sixteenth century; and the Body of Christ after deposition, with a kneeling donor, c. 1520." (Rupert Gunnis, Historic Cyprus, 1936, p. 464).
Kythrea, the village where the first cauliflower grew, is partly Maronite and partly Greek Orthodox. It lies N.E. of Nicosia and not far from Koutsovendis. I was not able to go there.
"St. Andronicos, a small ancient chapel belonging to the Maronites, contains an icon of St. Andonicos with a long inscription in Arabic, dated 1681: one of the B.V.M. Galataga, a good example of an untouched sixteenth-century eikon, and one of St. Macarios supported by two saints dated 1692." (Rupert Gunnis, Historic Cyprus, 1936, p. 308).
The ruined church of St. Antony, on top of a hill, was Maronite and so was the church of St. Marina, now Orthodox.
There are Maronite churches in the towns of Nicosia, Larnaca and Famagusta. At Famagusta the Latin Catholics go to the Maronite Church, as there is no Latin Church. Nicosia and Larnaca have both Latin and Maronite Churches and priests. It is unfortunately noticeable that in the towns the Maronite is regarded as the peasant church and that as the people rise in the world they are apt to leave their own rite for the Latin. It has been suggested that the Latin priests might do more to discourage this tendency which is directly contrary to the clear instructions of the Holy See."
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