Located within the Tashkent Nature Park on the Southern side of the Pentadaktylos mountains.
Panagia Absinthiotissa is named after the common shrub, wormwood which surrounded the mouth of a cave where monks had hidden an icon to the Virgin Mary during the time of the iconoclasm. According to local myths’, many years later villagers saw a strange light coming from the area and went to investigate. They discovered the icon and so decided to build a monastery near the cave. The name derives from the name of the Virgin, Panagia in Greek Orthodox and the wormwood bushes (Artemisia absinthium). In western medieval sources, such as the Chronicle of Georgios Boustronios, the monastery is as known as the Abbey of Abscithi or Apinthi or simply called Psithia.
The monastery was probably established in the 11th or 12th century as a Byzantine imperial foundation and continued to enjoy prominence during the Lusignan and Venetian periods. Leontios, the Abbot in 1222, was sent as a delegate to the Patriarch Germanos II in Nicaea, to report the plight of the Orthodox Church under Latin jurisdiction. The Archbishop of Cyprus, Neophytus was in Nicaea at this time, having been banished by the Latin authorities for refusing to take an oath of obedience to the Roman Catholic Pontiff. Boustronios(1456-1489) mentions the Queen of Cyprus worshipped at the monastery in 1486, which implies that Panagia Apsinthiotissa was then under the Roman Church. He also reports that pilgrimages were made to Apinthi and Antiphonitis on the fifteenth of August by all the people of Kyrenia. After the Ottoman conquest, the monastery became the property of the Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem and subordinate to the nearby Monastery of Saint Chrysostom in Koutsoventis.
Architecture & Dates
Panagia Apsinthiotissa is built on a typical Byzantine type cross-in-square plan. The naos (inner sanctuary) of the main church was probably built in the late 11th century, based on the style of the surviving fresco fragments, whereas the high octagonal dome, was probably added later in the 13th century. The dome has only six supports: two free-standing piers to the east, two engaged piers in the west wall and one in the middle of the north and south walls.
The narthex, on the west side may have been built in the 12th century based on the fresco style and its layout, although the simple Gothic rib vaulting, was probably added when the naos was strengthened with the addition of arches and buttresses in the 15th century. Barskij (1735) visited church and found it derelict, but with its dome still standing. George H. Everett Jeffery, writing in 1918 described the monastery as a ruin, as by then the upper parts had collapsed.
The dome from inside – rebuilt in the 1960s
The church was built contemporaneously with the refectory and other monastery buildings. The refectory to the north of the church is an elongated cross-vaulted hall with an apse on the east wall with traces of fresco. The window arches are built of brick. It was extensively restored in 1965-69, during the excavation a hypocaust belonging to a later Turkish bath was found.
Remaining fragments of frescoes
Apart from the irregular rock-cut Enkleistra refectory (near Paphos), this is the only surviving Byzantine refectory on Cyprus, which is similar in plan and dimensions to middle Byzantine refectories elsewhere in the Byzantine empire.
The site was partly excavated in the 1960s, by this time the structure survived only up to the base of the vaults. The superstructure was rebuilt in 1963-67: the missing vault parts of the narthex and the west porch were reconstructed (despite the lack of evidence about their original form), the bema vaults were repaired (according to the evidence of the surviving prothesis vault) and the missing southeast pier was rebuilt. Later additions, the apse arch and the masonry around the dome piers were removed, and the walled southernmost door between narthex and naos was opened revealing some surviving fresco decoration. The squinches were rebuilt (only that in the northwest was still partly standing with its original roof tiles), as was the dome with twelve windows (the re-construction copied Antiphonetes although there is no evidence to support this design). A new floor was laid and gypsum panels were installed in the windows. The surviving fresco fragments, ‘Communion and Prelates’ on the apse wall and the ‘Virgin cycle’ on the diakonikon on the south wall were consolidated and cleaned
In 2003, Panagia Apsinthiotissa was documented by a group of Greek and Turkish architects associated with the Cyprus Civil Engineers and Architects Association (CCEAA) and the Chamber of Cyprus Turkish Architect as part of a project to list and document buildings to assist preserving, safeguarding and operating of religious buildings of Cyprus abandoned after 1974.
Today, as part of the current development of the Tashkent Nature Park, the church and refectory has been cleaned up and can now be easily visited, further restoration is planned.
Panagia Apsinthiotissa, the ruined narthex, as drawn by Camille Enlart in the late nineteenth century
The narthex today with simple gothic rib vaulting
http://www.hellenicaworld.com/Cyprus/Geo/en/PanagiaApsinthiotissa.html - George H. Everett Jeffery, A Description of the Historic Monuments of Cyprus (Nicosia, 1918, reprint. ed. London, 1983), p. 275.
Tassos Papacostas, Inventory of Byzantine Churches on Cyprus, London 2015, ISBN 978-1-897747-31-5, available at http://ibcc.dighum.kcl.ac.uk/