Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Lovely day for a an ancient basilica

Bill & Judy at the ruins of Trias Basilica at Sipahiay
A few days ago we joined Ruth and Randal for a short walk through the countryside near the marina.  They had already walked this route in August and knew where to find the ruins of a basilica dating back to 535 A.D.  Randal said the floors were covered in tiny tile mosaics.  One of the rooms had mosaics in the pattern of sandals and pomegranate branches.  So off we headed on a less-than-perfect day for a country walk.  We hoped to make it back before the skies opened up and poured again.

Lovely day for a walk?

As normal for us, we forgot to bring our camera.......yet again.  Ruth kindly offered to let me use hers; and later she also shared her photos with us.  Frankly, I don't remember which of these photos I took and which ones she snapped.

Walking past small herd of sheep

After reaching the top of the small hill we turned off the road to enter the field where the ruins are situated.  Soon a couple of small boys walked over and collected the 5 TL entrance fee from each of us and presented us with printed sheets providing basic information on the ruins.

Today I looked on the internet and found a bit more information about this place.

Randal & Ruth at basilica ruins

The Aya Trias Basilica is located near the village of Sipahi.  It was built at the start of the 6th century, although one source stated that the earliest construction found thus far dates back to the 5th century.  The basilica has been used for different purposes in different times, and various annexes were added at different times.  This is not a huge complex.  At least not what has been excavated thus far.

Basilica ruins as seen from original rear entry

 The basilica was destroyed during the Arab raids of the 7th century.  It was then abandoned, and a small church and other buildings were built to the south of the original basilica.  These buildings also were abandoned and destroyed around the 9th century.  All memory of the basilica disappeared until it was rediscovered by chance in 1957, at which time it was partially excavated.  Some parts are still under the earth.  There is still a great deal for archaeologists to do; however, no excavation is ongoing nor is any planned as far as we can ascertain.

Randal on north side of basilica ruins

The original entrance atrium is located at the western end of the basilica, the end farthest away from today's entrance gate.  That entrance atrium leads to an entrance lobby, or narthex, spanning the width of the basilica.  (According to what I have read, the narthex or entrance lobby was always located on the western side of the earliest Christian churches.  I have no idea why.)  The narthex leads to a 3-sided nave, with a number of columns still standing.  Inside the nave is the remains of a chancel.

Pomegranates & Sandals mosaics on basilica floor

The floors of the narthex and nave are extensively covered with tiny-tiled mosaics in mostly geometric patterns.  There are also mosaics depicting leaves, crosses and other early Christian symbols.  In the northern nave there are several very different mosaics -- of pomegranate trees alongside a pair of sandals.  Pomegranates were used by the early Christians as a symbol of resurrection and everlasting life.  According to the literature found online, the sandals are a little bit more of a mystery.  It is possible the sandals were a reminder of the time when Moses took off his sandals in order to meet God in the desert.  Or it could be a reminder of the time that John the Baptist described the coming of Christ, explaining that he was not even important enough to remove the sandals from Christ's feet.  It is assumed, however, that because the sandals are placed next to or between squares of pomegranates, the sandals simply represent the journey through this world to the next.  Although sandals as a symbol are found elsewhere in the Middle East, this is the only known example in Cyprus.

Basilica sponsors
One thing that is known about the basilica is who paid for its construction.   At the western end of the nave is seen the names of Aetis, Euthalis and Eutochianos as benefactors. Embedded in a tablet in cube-shaped tesseras in front of the main apse is an inscription which credits a deacon (assistant of the priest) by the name of Heracleos (Heraclios) as the maker of the mosaics. 

Cross shaped baptismal chamber

To the southeast of the basilica (on the left at today's entrance) one can see the remains of a large cross-shaped baptismal chamber.  This is the largest known baptismal chamber on the island of Cyprus.

The usual form of baptism among the earliest Christians was for the person being baptized to be immersed totally or partially (standing or kneeling in water while water was poured on him or her).
Cross shaped baptismal chamber

This baptismal chamber is large enough and deep enough to have been used in that manner, and it is not even completely excavated.   Dirt still fills the lower parts of the chamber.

Ruth & Bill in Bishop's Palace ruins

It is thought that the other structures around the baptismal chamber are the remains of the Bishop's Palace.  Again, more archaeological work needs to be done in order to learn more about this site.

One mystery remains for now.  The basilica is much bigger than would be needed for the use of the village that has so far been discovered.  Was there a bigger village somewhere nearby?  If not, why was this basilica built?
Bill in basilica ruins behind ancient olive tree

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