Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Bellapais Abbey

Courtyard; church on right.
Bellapais Abbey is located in the small village of Beylerbeyi, about 1/3 up the Five Fingers Mountains southeast of Girne/Kyrenia.  The views are pretty but not nearly as impressive as from higher up at Hilarion Castle.  The village has become to be commonly called Bellapais since the Abbey/Monastery is the main attraction.  The present day name is the corrupt form of the 'Abbaye de la Paix' or 'The Abbey of Peace.'

Old bell tower at abbey; no access allowed today

The site of Bellapais is believed to have been the early residence of the Bishops of Kyrenia, as well as their place of refuge during the Arab raids of the 7th and 8th centuries.  In 1187, Jerusalem fell to the Saracens (Saladin--- the Kurdish Sunni Muslim who conquered the Crusaders); and the Augustinian canons who had custody of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre came to Cyprus.  The abbey was founded for the Augustinians around 1200 A.D. by Aimery de Lusignan.  It was consecrated as the Abbey of St. Mary of the Mountain.  The abbey was constructed in main part between 1198 -- 1205.  A large part of the present day complex was constructed during the rule of the French King Hugh III (1267-1284).  

View from restaurant past east end of abbey, looking north

The Augustians were soon followed by the White Canons, or Norbertines (a/k/a Premonstratensians).  The rule was adopted from 1206 onwards:  the monks of this abbey would wear white habits, which led to the formation of the name of White Abbey.

From upper level by treasury room.
Looking down on Refectory entrance.

In 1246, Sir Roger the Norman gave Bellapais Abbey a fragment of the True Cross and the sum of 7600 besants in exchange for the canons saying masses in perpetuity for his soul and the soul of his wife, Lady Alix.  (The True Cross was a scam in my opinion.  There was no way to identify the actual cross on which Christ was crucified; but shortly after the Crusades an important European lady whose name escapes me at the moment traveled to Jerusalem and was shown various historically religious places and items; and she named these places and things to be official or 'true.'  The places and things she was shown likely were not where events actually occurred.  It was a way for the locals to make money from her.  The True Cross was one of those scams; although if you want to believe it, by all means do so.)  The fragment of the supposed True Cross caused pilgrims to flock to the abbey to see the relic.  The pilgrims would spend some time in retreat and give generous donations to the abbey at the end of their stays.
From church, looking at Refectory.  Courtyard behind the 3 arched openings.

French King Hugh III gave the abbots of Bellapais the privileges of wearing a miter, bearing a gilded sword and wearing golden spurs.  Can't you just picture that image in your mind!  Hugh died in Tyre in 1284 and is believed to have been buried at the abbey.

Pretty little village today
Thanks to its pious benefactors, Bellapais Abbey grew in size and importance and wealth.  The powerful abbots were frequently in dispute with the Archbishop of Nicosia, and the Pope had to intervene in disagreements on several occasions.

King Hugh IV lived in the abbey between 1354 and 1358 and added apartments for himself.  But in 1373, Bellapais' glittering treasure attracted the attention of the Genoese, who robbed the abbey of everything light enough to carry.  The treasure was plundered and the precious relic fragment of the supposed True Cross was stolen.  After this raid, the abbey spun into physical and moral decline.  By the mid-16th century the strict Norbertine rule had been virtually abandoned at Bellapais.  Many of the canons took a wife or two and accepted only their own children as novices.  (Keeping whatever wealth the abbey had within family control.)  The Genoese (Venetians) shortened the long-standing name of Abbaye de la Paix to simply 'De la Paix' -- which eventually morphed into Bellapais.

Gothic church on left; abbey restaurant on right
After the Ottoman (Turkish) conquest in 1570, the abbey was given to the Orthodox Church.  The Ottomans respected other religions and did not destroy Christian buildings or confiscate religious property........unless, of course, they wanted to actually use a building as a mosque as was done with the Hagia Sophia in Instanbul.  After the abbey was given to the Orthodox Church the buildings were neglected and fell into disrepair.  But the abbey church was used as the parish church for the village that grew up around the monastery.   Presumably the village was populated by descendants of of the monks.

The abbey continued to fall further into disrepair over the years.  Stone was removed from the abbey to be used to build houses in the village.  In 1878 the British Army cemented the floor of the great hall and used it for a military hospital.  The ruins were repaired in 1912 by the curator of Ancient Monuments of Cyprus.

Inside Gothic church
The complex is entered via the original fortified gatehouse.  Immediately on the right is the abbey church.  This is considered the best Gothic church remaining anywhere.  It is possible to arrange a small wedding inside this old church.    It is very dark inside the church.  The arched ceilings are blackened from all the years of candles burning inside the church.  Lamplight still glistens and gleams from the golden icons on the walls.
Interior of Gothic church

Past the front of the church is a small courtyard.  At the eastern end of this courtyard were the dormitories (for the monks and also for all those pilgrims).  Four enormous cypress trees are in this courtyard today and tower above the remaining arches that mark the cloisters.  On the southern side of the courtyard are several sets of steep very worn stone steps leading up to the abbey Treasury Room and some rooms where important religious items were housed.  Arches are still visible up there.  We climbed up and the views were nice.

At the northern side of the courtyard back down at ground level stands the refectory, a massive hall where the original vaulting is still intact.  The original pulpit remains, where a priest would read enlightening texts to the monks as they ate.  The 6 enormous windows provide a fabulous view down the hillside overlooking Girne, the harbor and the sea.  High on the eastern wall behind the pulpit is a beautiful rose window which also helps illuminate the room.

Roman Sarcophagus
In the courtyard outside the entryway to the refectory there are 2 Roman sarcophagi.  One once served as a lavabo (for ceremonial washing of the hands with specific religious context).

The 3 coats of arms

The marble lintel above the door into the refectory contains the coat of arms of the royal Cyprus, Jerusalem and the Lusignans.

Cellar beneath Refectory
Steep stone steps just outside the western wall of the refectory lead down to 2 large rooms beneath the refectory.  A sign stated the kitchen and cellar were down there, but that is very odd.  Kitchens were not normally placed inside buildings like this.  The first large room down there was empty except for 2 large signs in Turkish.  I assume this room was used as the cellar. 

Kitchen beneath Refectory; today an art gallery
The second large room held a temporary art exhibit.  Several pieces had already been sold.  Nothing particularly appealed to our tastes.  I assume this room functioned as the kitchen because it had an exterior door.  I think much of the cooking was done outside that doorway.  There was a small ground space out there covered in stone; it was a straight 50-foot drop down the mountainside from there.  This would have kept poachers from having any possibility of gaining access to the food.

Refectory arranged for musical concert.
Note rose window.
Walkway by refectory

The refectory is still used today.  Classical music concerts are held in the refectory because it has excellent acoustics.  Provides a special atmosphere or ambiance as well.  The Bellapais Music Festival attracts international ensembles and soloists to perform in this special place.  The festival is held in May each year and tickets sell out quickly.

Dormitories upstairs; monks below
As mentioned above, the dormitories had been located at the eastern end of the courtyard.  The dormitories obviously had been 2 stories high, but only the western wall remained relatively intact.  The northern, eastern and southern walls were only partially still standing.  

looks like a frog to me
There were 2 doorways from the courtyard in this eastern wall.  
Might be a monk?
One led to the dormitories.  

The other doorway opened into a room that served as the administration office of the abbey.  The remains of this room contain some 'interesting' Gothic stone carvings.  According to the visitor brochure, we were looking at stone carvings of:
Man with ladder on back?

1. A man with a double ladder on his back
2. A man represented between 2 sirens
Man between 2 sirens?
3. A woman reading
4. Two beasts attacking a man
5. A woman with a rosary
6. A monk wearing a cloak
7. A monkey and a cat in the foliage of a pear tree beneath which a man holding a shield is seen
Monkey & Cat under pear tree?

Not only could I not make out which was supposed to be what, I also could only find 6 carvings on the wall, not 7 as mentioned in the brochure.  Maybe one of these old things has fallen off the wall since this brochure was printed.
2 beasts attacking a man?

I stared for awhile but could not visualize the things mentioned above in the stone carvings.  Maybe some of our readers have better imaginations and can see some of these things in the photos.

Typical meze for 2 people.  12 small dishes & pita wedges

We ate lunch seated in a lovely setting on the outdoor upper level of a restaurant across the entry to the abbey.  For the first time we ordered the traditional Turkish meze.  This is an assortment of small dishes served as the starter of a meal.   Friends had warned us that this 'starter' usually is a complete meal in itself, so we did not order any main entrees.  And that was a wise decision!  The table was covered in small plates filled with all sorts of foods.  Served with a basket of pita slices.  We enjoyed everything.  Our least favorite was the purple dish which was made from finely diced red cabbage and yogurt......I think.  It was okay but we had saved it to taste last and by then we were already pretty full.  So the only dish returned uneaten was the purple stuff.......whatever it was.

Abbey restaurant patio seating on terrace on left
Later we found the restaurant where all our friends had eaten during their visits to the abbey.  People had told us of violin or cello musicians on one trip and a piano player on another trip.  We sort of wondered why there was no music at the restaurant while we were eating.  Then after walking around more we discovered that we had eaten in the "wrong" restaurant.  The restaurant with musical entertainment was located actually inside the abbey complex out in front of the rectory.  But we were happy with our restaurant choice at the other location.  Bill was especially happy about that choice because the "right" restaurant was playing opera the day we visited.  And Bill is not a fan of opera.  Beautiful views on a beautiful day at either place.
Entrance to the abbey restaurant

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