A short take on Early Christian Burials from Cyprus

I’m still plugging away on a little essay on the archaeology of Early Christian Cyprus. Over the last week I wrote a few hundred words on baptisteries and this slightly longer section on burials. 

Enjoy:

Christian burials represent another common, if complex, form of Christian material culture on the island. The earliest Christian tombs on the island appear to be associated with the burials of important, early bishops on the island. While there is reason to doubt the historicity of textual accounts relating the discovery of Barnabas’ tomb in the 5th century, it reflects the significance of Christian burials for creating a scared landscape and his body made Salamis and the Campanopetra church an important pilgrimage site. The burial of St. Epiphanios in a church that he commissioned at Salamis with its ambulatory, impressive decor and size as well as the presence of marble lined tomb at the east end of the southern-most aisle. The martyrium church at Soloi, the church of St. Heracleidos at Tamassos, and the church of St. Tychonas at Amathus, and the newly discovered church at Katalymmata ton Plakoton on Akrotiri appear to fit a pattern of martyr shrines across the island.

At churches like St. Tychonas, the burial of a fouth-century bishop appears to have attracted later burials including St. John the Almsgiver and a large number of otherwise unknown individuals indicating the church because a funerary basilica. The “south basilica” at Polis-Chrysochous attracted an assemblage of stone-lined burials and oriented east-west largely on axis with the church. Three prominent stone-lined graves, one with a marble lid, sit against the south wall of the south aisle. The ceramic material from these burials dates these tombs to soon after the construction of the church in the late sixth or early seventh century. One of these graves produced a bronze pectoral cross. To the south of the church are a series of burials which likely date to slightly later than the burials in the south aisle which produced well over 100 individuals. The church itself saw numerous later burials suggesting that the area remained an important site for inhumation perhaps even after the church went out of use. The nearby North Basilica contained seven 1×2 m and 1.5-3 m deep large stone-lined pits identified by the excavators as “burial repositories” which dated to before the seventh century. The repositories contained the disarticulated bones of numerous individuals with the largest containing as many as 30 adults and children. The grave good associated with these bones include rings, earrings, and bronze belt buckles. Quantities of an oil substance, charcoal, and lime may well preserve the remains of some kind of reburial ritual.

The site of St. George-Peyias produced a series of rock-cut tombs which served the needs of the local harbor community. Four of these tombs featured large central spaces surrounded by up to four loculi on each side. Three of these tombs preserved Christian crosses inscribed in the stone and the corresponding burials were presumably associated with the latest phase of the settlement which appears to have suffered abandonment in the seventh century. In his publication of these tombs, C. Bakirtzis noted that the paucity of datable tombs on Cyprus has made understanding the use and re-use of rock-cut tombs by Christian communities nearly impossible. Numerous similar inscribed and painted crosses appear associated with tomb loculi elsewhere in Cyrus including the well-known north cemetery at Paphos which dates to the Hellenistic and Roman period. The marking of specific tombs and loculi with Christian symbols seems to indicate that Christians and non-Christians could share the same cemeteries.

A cistern found at Sirmata basilica at the site of Kalvassos-Kopetra produced the remains of nine individuals. This church was a small monastery which included a subterranean crypt accessed from the narthex and two tombs. When the church endured major damage in the seventh century, the rubble was cleared from the crypt entrance to allow access and the tombs were used for new interments. At around the same time, nine bodies were interred in the cistern. The state of the bodies indicate that this was the primary interment for the bodies and the seventh century date tempted the excavator to associate these remains with the Arab raids of the mid-seventh century or perhaps with a plague of the Justinianic period. The practice of burying the dead in proximity to venerated bodies appears to have persisted even through the disruptions at the end of Early Christian period.

2 Comments

  1. i enjoyed this (as I do many of your pieces). It occurred to me that burial sites may have marked safe-ish venues for travel, in a disrupted world, and so helped to idealise travel, such that such that the theme of outlandish travels (as in the Komnenian novels) became almost a standardised literary topos, or feature, in the imaginative narratives of a later, more settled period? Just a thought…!

    Reply

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