Ay. Lazaros is one of the most visible monuments in Larnaka, Cyprus and among the most significant churches on the island. I’ve wandered around this beautiful church frequently over my years of working on Cyprus and staying in Larnaka.
Ironically, very little is known about this building. Historically associated with the relics of Lazaros who is said to have come to Cyprus and to have become Bishop of Kition after his resurrection, this church was constructed sometime in the Medieval period. In its present form, it stands as a series of cross-in-square churches terminating in a three apses. It has a later porch that extends along its south side and much later campanile. The church endured a significant fire in the 18th century when its domes collapsed. The church has seen relatively little archaeological study and despite some useful guides to its history and architecture, has not received comprehensive study.
Last week, I was pretty excited to receive the monumental tome that is the Report of the Department of Antiquities of Cyprus from 2011-2012. It’s late, but that’s ok, because it remains a curio cabinet of archaeological knowledge about the island. It includes a fascinating article on the architecture of Ay. Lazaros, the Angeloktisti at Kiti and Ayios Antonios in Kellia west of Cyprus by a group of students from the University of Padova in Italy, Lucia Scudellaro, Isabella Zamboni, Alessia De Paoli, Monica Gamba, Michela Modena and Morena Tramonti under the supervision of Gian Pietro Brogiolo (RDAC 2011-2012, 821-853).
(Another story for another time involves my toying with the idea of journal on the archaeology of Cyprus with a few colleagues. Fortunately some smarter people intervened gently to discourage us from starting such a thing, but I do admit to occasionally thinking about it still. Anyway, I’m glad the RDAC is back.)
Their study of this important monument was hardly comprehensive, but it does hint at the potential of studying the standing walls of the church stratigraphically. They were able to identify at least four pre-modern phases including the tantalizing early phase that not only indicates that the church had always existed, more or less, in its current plan. The dating of this building, of course, remains unresolved, and it will remain perhaps the most significant, undated monument on the island. The possibility that it dates from the so-called “condominium period” (and here I’m speculating freely and irresponsibly) is intriguing. The building’s distinctive architecture, its association with Ay. Lazaros, and its role in constructing the apostolic landscape of Cyprus makes it a particular tempting object for future study. Some needs to sort this building out.
The University of Padova team also studied the well-known Angelokisti at Kiti which appears in every survey of Early Christian art for its pre-iconoclastic apse mosaics. They’re amazing and worth seeing, but they’ve also always confounded me because the architecture of the church is clearly much later (probably 11th century or later) than the 6th or 7th century apse mosaic (dated on stylistic grounds). How do you preserve an apse while losing the church?
The Padova team carefully documented the various styles of construction and their relationships to show how the key phases in shoring up the inner apse and its mosaic stand with only the most ambiguous relationships to later phases. In other words, the fabric of the building, at least for now, offers little in the way of definitive chronology (relative or absolute) for dating the major reconstruction of the Angeloktisti and preserving the apse itself.
Like the Ay. Lazaros, one of the most significant churches on the island remains a mystery in certain key ways, but the work from the Padova team provides plenty of incentive for these two buildings to see greater scrutiny. As the 7th-9th century on Cyprus has seen renewed interest and significant reconsiderations in the last decade, there is an additional opportunity for new fieldwork at these buildings to provide important insights into the history of the eastern part of the island at the end of antiquity. That relatively little is known about the Early Christian and Early Medieval history of Larnaka and Larnaka district adds local importance to this work and any future work that it might inspire.