Barnabas and the autocephalous Church of Cyprus:
Barnabas, a national of Salamis, was the friend of the Apostle Paul on disciple journeys around Cyprus and Asia Minor prior to their fight over whether or not Barnabas's cousin Mark was to escort them abroad. He is usually accredited with being the apostle most significant in bringing Christianity to the isle, and – long after his termination – with affecting its self-determining status through an astonishing intrusion.
His actions having aroused the anger of the Salamis Jewish society into which he had been born, Barnabas was martyred by stoning in about 75 AD; subsequently matters turn out to be mythical, with most accounts having Mark interring the deceased at a secret location. There things would have rested had it not been for a clerical quarrel after four hundred years.
In the late-fifth century the Church of Antioch, having been discovered by Peter and therefore being an apostolic see, asserted preference over that of Cyprus, which retorted, initially ineffectively, that as a basis of the Apostle Barnabas the island's Church was also apostolic and of equivalent rank. Subordination to the Syrian archbishopric was only avoided through the mystical involvement of Barnabas himself, who become visible in a dream to Anthemios, Archbishop of Salamis, and bade him discover the apostle's leftovers from a lonely spot on the Mesaoria marked by a carob tree. Following these directions, the cleric discovered a catacomb correspond the description and containing what could have been the bones of Barnabas, clasping a moldy copy (in Hebrew) of the Gospel of St. Matthew to his breast. Armed with these unquestionable leftovers, the Cypriots went to Constantinople, where a synod assembled by the Emperor Zeno was adequately astonished to grant special privileges to the island's Church.
Most significantly it was to remain autonomous, adjourning merely to the sees of Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem in significance and in later centuries pre-eminent over larger autonomous churches, such as those in Russia. Cypriot bishops kept the right to vote for their own archbishop, who was allowed to sign his name in red ink in imitation of the Byzantine emperor's ritual, wear regal purple and use a sceptre instead of a pastoral staff. When Cyprus fell to the Ottomans, until then, these symbolic privileges acquired practical import inasmuch as the churchmen were charged with the civil as well as the spiritual administration of their Orthodox flock. Following independence, Archbishop Makarios revived the medieval term “ethnarch”, further blurring the lines between secular and ecclesiastical power, with eventually catastrophic consequences for the island.
St. Barnabas Monastery:
St. Barnabas Monastery (Ayios Varnavas), along with Ayias Mamas in Guzelyurt and Apostolos Andreas on the Karpas tip, is a complete monastery preserved as it was pre-1974 and open for viewing as an icon museum. Its ambiance is relaxed and pleasant, and it lies less than 2km from Salamis. A visit takes at least 40 minutes and there is a small cafe in the backyard.
Set on the road between Enkomi and the tombs of the kings, a road sign announces the monastery and you drive up to the door opposite the pleasantly carved water fountain.
The monastery was running until 1976, having been lived in since 1917 by three monks, all brothers, said to be impossible to differentiate from one another. The youngest, a mere 79, was a painter, creating quantities of splendid icons which were sold to visitors to acquire funds for the maintenance needed in the monastery. The other brothers, regardless of their age, then affected this maintenance, adding up the new bell tower and finishing the rooms and cells around the courtyard. The beautiful garden and cloister courtyard contain quantities of carved blocks and capitals from Salamis, and a remarkable black basalt grinding mill from Enkomi. Many of the rooms around the courtyard are bursting with pottery from the Enkomi site, much of it in incredible state. The garden is still well tended, with jasmine and hibiscus flame trees, vast pink flowering cacti and citrus trees, one of which is a hybrid producing oranges, lemons and mandarins from different parts of the same tree.
The monastery church itself has also altered as the monks left. The pulpits and wooden lecterns are still in place, while the pews have been removed and the place has now been converted into a gallery for the church's compilation of icons. The crasser ones are the work of the creative brother. A series of four portray the tale of how the Cypriot archbishop went to Constantinople to ask for and be granted independence for the Church of Cyprus by the Emperor Zeno. This tale is particularly relevant to the monastery, as it was gratitude to Barnabas that this came about. As the Apostle who, with Paul, introduced Christianity to Cyprus, Barnabas is honored as the actual founder of the Cypriot Church. Born in Salamis, Barnabas returned here later with Paul and died in his town, martyred by Jews. A number of his followers who witnessed his execution and watched as his body was dumped in marshland are said to have taken his corpse before his murderers could get rid of it appropriately, and brought it to this spot. Here it lay in peace and forgotten for centuries until its location was discovered to Anthemios in a dream in AD477.
Its rediscovery encouraged the archbishop to get going to Constantinople and request that the Cypriot Church be granted its independence. The Byzantine emperor approved, convinced by the present of the original Gospel of St Matthew, in Barnabas's own handwriting, supposedly found clasped in the dead saint's arms. Zeno even donated the funds for this, the first monastery on Cyprus. In the present day, the self-governing Church of Cyprus ranks fifth in the world of Greek Orthodoxy – after the patriarchates of Russia, Greece, Serbia, Romania, etc.
The monastery as it stands now dates largely to the 18th century, as the original 5th-century building was shattered in the Arab raids. Of the icons in the church, one, portraying two men and now hanging from the iconostasis, is believed to be 1,000 years old. Carved capitals from Salamis peep out from the whitewashed walls, and the blackened pillar inside the painted apse is from Salamis. Near the altar are wax effigies of an arm, a foot, and even three heads (to be found just next to the Virgin Mary, Christ and St John the Baptist), from families whose children have illnesses in these parts of the body, hung here for the saint to cure.
Maybe more inspiring than the church is the monastery's museum, housed in the rooms surrounding the courtyard. Among the collection are some magnificently whole pottery pieces from different eras, some equally complete Roman glassware and some gold jewellery. Opposite the ticket office, the small gift shop sells a collection of goods including tacky rugs, postcards and camera film.
Outside the monastery, round the side towards the bell tower are some older ruined outbuildings, now abandoned. The tree-lined road straight ahead from the monastery door leads to Barnabas's tomb. The simple domed mausoleum was erected in the 1950s above an old rock tomb, and one can still climb down the rock steps to see this empty tomb where the bones of Barnabas and his Gospel of St Matthew were said to have been discovered.