Sunday, October 30, 2011

Visit with a friend

Glenn beside the travel lift tires.  Big, aren't they?
Our friend, Glen Martin, arrived for a short visit.  It was good to see him again; last time was when he visited us in St. Martin in the Caribbean during early 2007.  And he arrived bearing gifts!  A bottle of champagne! And a bag of Halloween/autumn themed goodies including candy corn, a tiny decorative pumpkin, pumpkin napkins and a tea towel with a pattern of autumn leaves and pumpkins, plus a scary movie DVD.  What a nice surprise -- especially the champagne.  That will be a real treat!  Glenn stayed with us for almost a week, stopping in Istanbul for a couple of days en route home.  Glenn works for an airline and is fortunate to get 'free' or almost free air travel, so he has traveled all over the place; but this was his first visit to Turkey and Cyprus, and his fist visit to Muslim countries.  I think this trip was the first time he has seen mosques with minarets.  Lucky for him, there is no mosque close to the marina so he missed the real Muslim experience of listening to the muezzin for the call to prayer several times daily.

Abandoned church near Dek's
On his first full day with us we drove down to Famagusta to see the old walled city.  But first we drove to the local restaurant to find out which team had won the latest match for the Rugby World Cup.  Yeah!  All Blacks!  


In front of this seaside restaurant there is an abandoned Greek Orthodox church.  All churches are abandoned in Northern Cyprus since the 1974 war as this is now an Islamic country.  

We walked down the rocky shore next to the restaurant to a landing to look at the pretty view of the sea and discovered another old stone building down there.  There were dozens of white cloths tied on the stones and door.  What is the world was that all about?  

Full of Christian painting & white cloths

The door was ajar and we entered to  investigate, hoping to solve the white rag mystery.  Inside were many Christian religious paintings scattered around -- and many more of the white cloths and white strips of paper stuffed into crevices along the walls.  There were some stone steps in a back corner of the building that descended into darkness.  We did not have a flashlight and thought it unwise to venture farther down.  

notice white strips of cloth in upper right area
We never did find out why all the white cloths and strips of white paper signify.  It was obvious that some of these had been placed on the walls relatively recently.  Why?  Never did find out.
note white strips of cloth on right around painting

(Added later:  be sure and read the comment below.  Our elder son toured Italy during high school with a history teacher.  The student group had a private tour of parts of the Vatican.  These white cloths are explained in our son's comment to this posting.  His explanation makes sense because the dark steps/passageway leading down was in the direction to be beneath the nearby church.  We also spoke with a local resident from the UK.  He said the small building was a church.  The larger nearby church is about 300 years old and the smaller church is more than twice as old.  He said there is a fresh water pool below sea level down that darn passageway.  The local Christians (practicing faith in secret) consider this water sacred and use it to dampen the white cloths they leave tucked into the crevices, exactly as our son explains in his comment shown below.)

Tiniest Cooper -- an older mode
When we stopped for gas on the drive to Famagusta we saw the tiniest Mini-Cooper ever!  This was apparently much older than today's Mini-Cooper autos.  Maybe it was the first Cooper.  The Mini-Cooper today looks like its big brother.

St. Nickolas, a/k/a Lala Mustafa Pasha Mosque
In Famagusta we strolled around inside the old walled city, easily finding our way again to the old Roman Catholic cathedral of St. Nickolas.  This cathedral was the largest medieval building in Famagusta.  Construction commenced in 1300 A.D.  Like most of the great Gothic cathedrals of the Middle Ages, it took 100 years to construct and was completed about 1400 A.D.  Today the building serves as the Lala Mustafa Pasha Mosque.  Visitors were entering the mosque but I did not have a head covering so we did not enter.  Notice the minaret added to the cathedral on the upper left of the facade.  Also, all crosses had been modified to not look like crosses anymore, but we could still see where these had once been crosses in the stonework.  Sometimes it is difficult to modify stones on the exterior walls of a building.  In front of the mosque on the left side was an enormous tree.  A sign nailed to the trunk indicated that this is a ficus sycamorus dating back to 1299 A.D.  I had no idea these trees could live that long.

St. Georges of the Greeks
We walked a few blocks to show Glenn the building we noticed earlier that looked like it had been hit with artillery shells.  This time we got close enough to read the sign.  This building had been a cathedral called St. Georges of the Greeks, which was the Orthodox cathedral dedicated to St. Epiphanos.  The saint's remains were buried here before later being moved to Constantinople (Istanbul).  The cathedral was built in the 1360s and was originally a  Byzantine church. 
bullet holes on outside wall
Gothic elements were added to the church's northern side to create a hybrid form of architecture that makes St. Georges of the Greeks somewhat rare among Mediterranean churches.  The central nave has chapels on both sides, leading to a cross nave, all with rounded apses.

Bullet holes inside wall chest to head height
In one of the alcoves we noticed hundreds of what appeared to be bullet holes from waist height to slightly above head height.  For all the world it looked like people had been stood against the wall and shot.  I cannot imagine any other reason for these bullet holes to be spread across the stone walls in this pattern.

Fresco of life of Christ

The upper levels of two of the alcoves were covered in painted frescoes depicting the life of Christ.  On the upper level of one alcove on the opposite side of the church was a painting of crucified Christ.  These paintings were faint and faded, but we were surprised they were visible at all.  These are on walls that have been exposed to the elements since 1571 when the roof was blown off.  We were amazed that these were visible at all after 440 years without even a roof to protect them.  Also, up in what remained of the ceilings of the alcoves there were large terracotta pottery jars embedded in with the stones.  There is a theory that the pottery fragments were added for acoustical purposes.

Faint image of Christ on cross
There also is a theory which suggests that the alcoves in the walls provided for the tombs of the church's founders actually weakened its structure. So, the very people who helped build St Georges of the Greeks in Famagusta may have contributed to its downfall --- literally.

In the nave are the foundations of some Roman columns where the method of binding stones with iron ties is visible.  The use of iron ties for constructing masonry without cement was often used by the Romans in harbors and jetties.
What we thought were holes from artillery shells were actually holes from cannon balls from the Turkish bombardment in 1571.  The vaulted roof was also blown off during that bombardment.  Still visible in the interior are the remains of 8 massive columns or piers that once supported the high vaulted ceiling that was blown away by the Turks.  Cannon balls still litter the area, 4 1/2 centuries later.  Earthquakes during the 18th century also took their toll on this building.

We circled back towards St. Nickolas and enjoyed lunch at a sidewalk cafe beneath the trees in the lovely surroundings.  We had planned to also visit Kantara Castle on our way back to the marina, but it was late in the day and we were all tired already.  So that was saved for another day.


  1. Your mysterious building with the white clothes is almost certainly a Christian crypt still in use today by Christians in Cyprus. The building was constructed around the entrance to the crypt or even possibly catacombs and since the church is abandoned, simple prayers are made in that entrance building, probably mostly for the dead.
    The white cloths are prayer cloths. They might have been slightly discolored from being anointed in olive oil, or they may not have been anointed at all. They were blessed by some priest likely hiding in plain sight and given to other Christians to use for prayer services. Most likely blessings for their recently deceased.
    Christians have been using practices like this in various countries at various times when Christianity may be outlawed or forbidden. They would place small items hidden in the walls around Christian burial places, particularly around Christian martyrs or saints. Historically these places are also marked with Christian graffiti, and as I understand it that is where the little fish symbol comes from.
    I’m sure Father John could provide a more accurate recollection/accounting of this, but my own is relayed from a private tour a young priest provided me in the City of the Dead under Vatican City.

  2. Thanks for the explanation. I added a note to this blog posting for ease of any future readers.

  3. Your explanation also makes sense for another reason. This little building was constructed at a lower level than the nearby road. It isn't really visible from the road. It faces the sea. One does not see the building until one walks down below the public area; it just looks like rocks from the road or hills. This is not a building that is noticeable unless one is specifically looking for it. It is not concealed but it is not noticeable.


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