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Accesible Church of Timios Stavros (Holy Cross) tou Agiasmati, Platanistasa

Discover UNESCO World Cultural Heritage

In the central part of Cyprus, in the mountains of the Troodos range, some of the most important monuments of the history of Byzantine painting have survived. These are the painted churches which have to this day preserved brilliant examples of various trends of Byzantine and post-Byzantine monumental art, from the 11th to the 19th century. Ten of these churches have been so far granted World Cultural Heritage status by UNESCO.

The church of Timios Stavros tou Agiasmati is situated in the eastern part of the Troodos mountain range, in the area of Pitsilia, about five kilometers northeast of the village of Platanistasa. In 1985 it was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List which includes nine other painted Byzantine churches of the Troodos range.

This church used to be the katholicon (monastery church) of a monastery bearing the same name, built towards the end of the 15th century. When Vassili Barsky, a Russian monk, visited the island in 1735, the monastery was almost abandoned and inhabited by only one monk (who was also the abbot) and a servant. According to researchers, the name 'Agiasmati' derives from the word 'Agiasma' (-atos) (sanctified water, spring or well near a church). Another interpretation is that the name is related to Agiasmati in western Asia Minor, a place related to the capture of Constantinople in 1453. It might be the case that refugees from the above area took shelter in Cyprus and later founded a monastery with the same name in the mountains of Cyprus, in commemoration of their homeland. As far as the rest of the monastic buildings are concerned, only traces of the cells survive to the south of the church.

The church is a single-aisled building with a steep-pitched timber roof covered with flat tiles. The roof extends beyond the main structure to form a portico on all four sides, a feature that is unique in Cyprus. According to an inscription, which survives on the exterior north wall above the entrance, the building was erected with the donation of a priest named Petros Peratis and his wife Pepani. Both of them are depicted on a wall-painting on the south exterior wall, offering a model of the church to Jesus with the mediation of the Virgin. The year of the church's erection is not known, but it is generally accepted that its decoration was completed in 1494. This indirectly indicates a date for the construction of the church.

The interior of the church, including the tie beams that support the wooden roof, is completely painted. These wall paintings are of particular interest since they represent a mixture of Palaiologan and local naive art, blended with Italian Renaissance influences. The painter was Philippos Goul, a hellenised Syrian Orthodox with good education. Even though his mastery of each style is different, the general impression is pleasant and sometimes quite impressive. Goul also painted the church of Agios Mamas in the village of Louvaras.

The paintings unfold in two tiers. In the upper tier multi-person scenes from the New Testament are depicted, whilst the lower tier is decorated with individual figures. The narrative cycle of the Discovery of the Holy Cross, to which the church is dedicated, is located in miniature paintings on the north blind arch. On the bema's apse, the Virgin in the type of Vlachernitissa is depicted.

Wall-paintings also survive on the external face of the west and south walls. The extensive and multi-person Last Judgment scene, which unfolds up to the far end of the gable where Jesus Christ is depicted, is worth mentioning.

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