The Church of Panagia Kanakaria is an early Christian holy shrine in Northern Cyprus
July 26, 2019 13:17

There are few Christian churches or temples in Northern Cyprus that would have been retained their ancient appearance to our days. Many of them have become ruins. Although, the church of Panagia Kanakaria, located not in the tourist city, but in the small village of Boltash in the Iskele region, is surprisingly well preserved.

This early Byzantine Basilica with a gable roof, built in the 6th century, is famous for its wall mosaics.

The church has a checkered past. Approximately 100 years after its construction, it was destroyed by the Arabs during a raid. In the 8th century, a vaulted basilica was built in its place. However, it did not stand for long either since it was badly damaged during an earthquake in 1169. Only in the XIV century the church was rebuilt, and in the XVIII century a monastery was built there.

The mosaic that adorned the church of Panagia Kanakaria depicts the baby Jesus sitting on the lap of the Virgin, surrounded by two archangels. This mosaic, dated to the 1st half of the 6th century, is one of six surviving mosaic works of early Byzantine iconography from that period. This is a completely original version of the composition of the Virgin with the archangels. The Virgin Mary sits on a lyre-shaped throne, and the baby Jesus on her knees is depicted right in front. This is the first known case of this type of image, called Cypriot, which later became widespread in Byzantine iconography. During the period of iconoclasm, the mosaic might have been plastered, and rediscovered then only in the 20th century. This mosaic is the oldest non-Cyprus mosaic in the apse, preserved in its place.

In 1974, the mosaic was smuggled out from Cyprus and sold piece by piece to collectors. Between 1985 and 2013, some of the mosaic fragments were returned to Cyprus, and now is retained in the Byzantine Museum of Nicosia. The fate of other fragments is still unknown.

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