Visiting Cyprus’s touristic sites often leaves the visitor a little over-exposed to the elements, so a visit to the St. Barnabas Monastery, set in attractive flowered gardens, provides welcome shelter and the feeling of being in an oasis of peace and calm. The site was extensively renovated in the 1990s after decades of neglect. The visitor today is rewarded with three attractions in one as, in addition to the monastery, there is also an icon museum and an archaeology museum on the same site.
Barnabas himself was a Cypriot Jew-in Jerusalem for studies-when he became an early Christian disciple and one of the nascent church’s most zealous missionaries. He is considered the founder of the Cypriot Orthodox Church, and tradition holds that he was martyred in Salamis, then a province of the Roman Empire, in AD 61.
There was a monastery on the site in the fifth century, built on the orders of the Emperor of Byzantium to commemorate the discovery of Barnabas’s long lost body, and although parts of the original edifice are still to be seen, the current building is from the eighteenth century. It is highly likely that the columns supporting the domes are recycled material from the Salamis ruins.
The mausoleum of the saint is built on the actual site where his remains were discovered in AD 477 and is about one hundred metres from the monastery. This small tomb is accessed by steps which lead down to an extensive necropolis which is part of the largely unexcavated and very extensive Enkomi necropolis with tombs dating back over 3000 years.
The icon museum possesses few examples of religious or artistic merit although the large iconostasis still manages to impress. Many of the icons were painted by the three priests, biological brothers, in fact, who remained as caretakers of the monastery from 1917 until, withered by age, they left in 1976.
The Archaeological Museum is much more impressive, with a collection that takes in every age from the Neolithic to the Ottoman. Much of the display, naturally, is from the nearby Salamis ruins. Some of the pottery is exquisite but perhaps the star of the show is a beautiful statue of Demeter in head-dress holding a poppy.