St Barnabas, Famagusta, Cyprus

St Barnabas, Famagusta

The monastery and museum of St Barnabas, Famagusta is close to the Royal Tombs and close enough to Salamis to be included in the same excursion.

St Barnabas is credited with introducing Christianity to Cyprus. Born a Jew in Salamis and brought up in Jerusalem, Barnabas became a follower of Jesus and went on missionary tours to Cyprus and Asia Minor with Apostle Paul and seven years later with his cousin Mark.

His activities displeased the powerful Jewish community in Salamis and their reaction was to stone him to death. His body was buried in a secret location by his cousin Mark. The story might have ended there but, 400 years later, Barnabas appeared in a dream to the Archbishop of Salamis and revealed the location of his tomb. Locating the lonely spot marked by a carob tree, the bishop found a catacomb with the skeleton of Barnabas inside still clutching a copy of the Gospel according to St Matthew. Emperor Zeno in Constantinople was so impressed by this miracle he granted the Cypriot church autonomy, independent of Antioch, and divided it into several bishoprics of its own. Some of the ancient powers granted to the bishop still exist, the right to wear imperial purple and carry a sceptre instead of a staff and sign documents in red ink in the manner of the old emperors.

A monastery was founded on the site of the tomb in the 5th century but the present build dates from 1756. The former monks cells around the inner courtyard now house an archaeological collection arranged clockwise from the Bronze age to the Venetian period. The church is now an icon museum although the best ones were stolen many years ago.

Walking ahead from the front door of the monastery, passing a partially exposed necropolis, takes you toward a small mausoleum built beside a carob tree. Inside, down a few steps, is supposedly the tomb of St Barnabas.

Once again, since green line crossings have opened up, it’s a popular place of pilgrimage at weekends for Greek Cypriots but it also attracts visitors across the spectrum.

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