The Early Christian History of Cyprus to the 5th Century

Campanopetra Basilica - View across the Apse to the Karpass Peninsula

Campanopetra Basilica with views towards the Karpass…Barnabas and Paul sailed into this bay

The fact that Cyprus has been a country rich in resources, especially copper, from which its Greek name was derived…Kypros, is a contributing factor to the early arrival of Christianity to the island in the 1st century.  The well established ports that date to the Phoenician Period and the export of a vast number of products placed Cyprus in the middle of trade routes in the eastern Mediterranean from the beginning of commerce. When the Romans arrived, all was in place to expand the trading network throughout their whole empire and beyond.

Therefore, as the New Testament attests, Christians sailed to Cyprus and departed the island with ease. There were boats heading in numerous directions at any port ready to take a person where they wanted to go.  After the stoning of Stephen, Chrisitians came to Cyprus.  Those from Cyprene and Cyprus went to Antioch to preach. Lazarus caught a boat here; Paul and Barnabas took a boat from Selecucia to Salamis, then left from Paphos for Perga. Barnabas and Mark came in from Turkey, and when Mark left Cyprus, he sailed to Egypt. Roads and commercial routes connected the entire Roman Empire to the benefit of all its inhabitants.

The Mountain-top monastery of Stavrovouni Stavrovouni…The Mountain of the Cross

Christian commitment was strong in Cyprus from the beginning. After the stoning of Stephen in Jerusalem, followers of The Way arrived on the island. It was from there Christianity was brought to Antioch, and the Good News spread. On his second mission, Barnabas taught Heracleides how to organize the Christians on the island.

Cyprus was represented by three bishops at the Nicene Council in 325AD: Cyril, Gelasious, and Spyridon.

St. Helena brought pieces of the True Cross and established monasteries to house them, among them Stavrovouni, pictured opposite. By the end of the 4th century, Christianity had spread throughout the island, and by the 5th century basilicas were prominent in most major cities.  In 478AD the remains of St. Barnabas with the Gospel of St. Matthew was found in the necropolis of Salamis.

There are many different types of early religious sites on the island.  Christianity in Cyprus, as in all the Roman Empire, slowly and steadily, through adversity and persecutions, triumphed over paganism in the first centuries of the millennium. Throughout Cyprus there is archaeological evidence proving the presence of an active Christian community.

Mosaic depicting Constantine the Great

Mosaic of Constantine

Constantine the Great unified the Eastern and Western Roman Empire in 312AD.  A year later he proclaimed his Edict of Milan granting Christians the right to practice their faith without fear of persecution.  Ever concerned about the welfare of his empire, he invited bishops of the realm to come to the First Ecumenical Council in Nicaea in order to settle their differences concerning the nature of Christ and to unify the Christian Religion.

Though he was baptized on his deathbed, he was a champion of Christianity when he was emperor.  His mother, Helena, was a devout Christian.  In her son’s name she went to Jerusalem to find the site of Christ’s crucifixion where she also found the True Cross.

According to Cypriot tradition, Lazarus came to Cyprus where he was ordained by St. Barnabas and St. Paul.  His tomb is in Larnaca. Find out more…

Barnabas and Paul came to Cyprus on their First Missionary Journey. Chart their path to Paphos, where Paul’s first miracle is recorded. Find out more…

Ayios Theodoros Underground Church in Dali

Cypriots worshiped in cave churches and catacombs originally and later in grand basilicas that were first built in the late 4th Century. Find out more…

Main Central Christian Mosaic in the House of Eustolios

In the 4th Century, Eustolios of Kourion dedicated his house to Christ and had it decorated with mosaics depicting Christian symbols. Find out more…

Learn about St. Barnabas, of his second missionary journey around Cyprus with John Mark, and of his death and burial. Find out more…

On July 21, 365AD, the entire Eastern Mediterranean was hit by a massive earthquake. The city of Kourion was devastated. Find out more…

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