Church of Panagia Aggeloktisti
Ministry of Communications and Works
Kiti, Larnaka district
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The church of Panagia Aggeloktisti is situated in the Larnaka district, in the north-western end of the village of Kiti, 12 km from the city of Larnaka and the ancient city of Kition. It is domed and built on a cross-in-square plan. The church, as it stands today, dates to the 11th century and was built over the ruins of a 5th century early Christian basilica, the semi-circular synthronon of which survives in the bema behind the altar of the 11th century church. According to the local tradition the church was founded by the residents of the ancient kingdom of Kition (modern-day Larnaka) who moved to Kiti in order to escape the Arab invasions. The epithet ‘Aggeloktisti’ is based on the folk tradition according to which the church was built by angels. The church is still in use for its initial function.
In the 12th century a barrel-vaulted chapel was built to the north of the temple dedicated to the healer saints Anargiroi, Kosmas and Damianos. It is possible that the chapel had a funerary character, as medieval tombs were found outside the northern side. In the end of the 13th century – beginning of the 14th century, another chapel, the so-called Latin chapel, was built to the south of the church, in order to serve the religious needs of the rulers of Cyprus. To date, three coats-of-arms survive above the chapel’s entrance, one of which belongs to the owners of the chapel, the rich Frankish family Gibelet. The inscribed tombstone of Simone Renier de Gibelet, who died in 1302, which survives in the chapel, suggests that this chapel may have also been of a funerary character.
The church of Panagia Aggeloktisti preserves a superb decoration which dates to different periods, including the unique 6th century wall mosaic on the half-dome over the sanctuary apse; this mosaic, also considered to be one of the most significant wall mosaics of the Early Christian art, depicts the Virgin standing in a gold background, holding baby Jesus in her left arm, with the Archangels Michael and Gabriel on either side. This is the only wall mosaic which has survived to the present day in monuments in Cyprus. The church is also decorated with wall paintings of the 11th century, a wooden iconostasis of the 16th century and also has icons dating from the 13th to the 19th century, all of which are of historical importance. These suggest the diachronic artistic and religious connections of Cyprus with the Byzantine world, the assimilation of artistic elements from different cultures (e.g. Byzantine and Frankish), and the diachronic importance of the church already in antiquity.
Justification of Outstanding Universal Value
The splendid wall mosaic on the half-dome of the apse of the church inside the bema, dating to the 6th century (Justinian period), is internationally important, as, according to specialists, it is one of the most significant and elaborate wall mosaics of early Christian art. The mosaic which depicts the Virgin standing in a gold background, holding baby Jesus in her left arm, and the Archangels, is the oldest surviving monumental representation of this type of Virgin, the so-called Panagia Vrefokratousa. On the inscription she is referred to as “H AGIA MARIA” (Holy Mary), which is intriguing in itself, as the Virgin is referred to as Agia Maria only in the Monophysite districts of Anatolia. This representation of the Virgin is considered to be the forerunner of the later known type of Panagia Odegetria.
The significance of this wall mosaic also lies in the fact that it belongs to the same artistic style as the wall mosaics of Ravenna and Sinai, also dating to the early Christian period, and inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage List due to the supreme artistry of the mosaic art. As this is the only monument with a wall mosaic in these attributes not included in the UNESCO World Heritage List, its potential inscription will result in the inclusion of surviving mosaics of the same artistic splendour, from different geographical contexts of the Mediterranean, within the same framework.
Moreover, concerning the eastern Mediterranean basin, this mosaic links the afore-mentioned early Christian wall mosaics with the wall mosaics of the monasteries of the 11th and 12th century at Daphni, Hossios Luckas in Phocis, and Nea Moni at Chios, in Greece, also built on a cross-in-square plan, and inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage List. As the church is also decorated with wall paintings of this period, it moreover signifies the dissemination of the artistic expressions developed in the 11th and 12th centuries in Greece into the basin of the eastern Mediterranean.
Based on the above, another aspect which makes the monument significant is the co-existence of artistic expressions of both the early Christian and Medieval art. Moreover, it demonstrates the ecclesiastical architectural development diachronically, over a wide temporal spectrum (from the 5th to the 14th centuries), thus combining elements of Byzantine and Gothic architecture. It is due to its Outstanding Universal Value that the church of Panagia Aggeloktisti is central in the bibliography of Byzantine art.
Most importantly, this monument represents a range of international values including historical and artistic, spiritual and religious, social and educational, while it is central in research. Values relating to the landscape may also be identified, as the church is built within a rural and traditional context of an island.
Criterion (i): The diachronic development of the church of Panagia Aggeloktisti in antiquity, the artistic treasures it presents from different historic phases, and the similarities with the artistic splendour of great World Heritage centres, within such a rural context, make it an outstanding example of human creative genius.
Criterion (ii): The different phases it represents, from the 5th century AD to the 14th century, suggest the importance and continuation of human values over a wide temporal spectrum. Despite its rural context, which makes it more valuable, it is also an important source for developments in architecture, technology and monumental arts diachronically and within different cultures (e.g. Byzantine, Frankish).
Criterion (iii): Located in a rural area, this religious monument attests to the strong relationship and spiritual commitment within the Eastern Christian tradition, especially as the monument is still in use for its original purpose. It is an example of a living cultural and religious tradition.
Criterion (iv): Panagia Aggeloktisti is an outstanding example of architectural development, significant for the eastern Mediterranean stages in human history, reflecting the assimilation of different cultural traits.
Criterion (vi): Panagia Aggeloktisti is still associated with the Christian ideas and religious traditions it represents. Apart from being used for its original purposes, the oral traditions and legends associated with its construction in the early Christian period, evidenced in the name of the church (Aggeloktisti means that it was built by Angels), are still part of the living traditions of the community and the inhabitants of the island.
Statements of authenticity and/or integrity
The monument satisfies the conditions of integrity, as the cultural heritage values it represents are intact and fully convey its significance. It furthermore includes all elements necessary to express its Outstanding Universal Value. The completeness of the church, in terms of presenting the various phases it underwent throughout antiquity, including alterations and additions, testifies to its integrity, which has been safeguarded in the past by conservation works.
Conservation works, aiming at preserving the monument, were undertaken by the Department of Antiquities since 1952, involving the wall paintings and the wood-carved iconostasis, while repairs were conducted at roof level, at the east end of the church, and the exterior of the sanctuary apse. In 1967 the north chapel was consolidated and conserved. These conservation works aimed at addressing the deterioration processes and ensuring the preservation of the structure of the monument and its decoration as it developed throughout the different historic periods.
In 2014 the Department of Antiquities, building on the need to secure the Outstanding Universal Value of the monument, has included the wall-mosaic in a Conservation Programme in association with the Getty Conservation Institute, which is a renowned Institute collaborating with the International Committee for the Conservation of Mosaics (ICCM), and the International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property (ICCROM) and MOSAIKON, an international multidisciplinary programme established by the above organisations. Given the international significance of the wall mosaic, the objective of this collaboration is to secure the application of the most recent methods and techniques in its conservation and documentation.
Further to the investment in its conservation and preservation of its integrity, its cultural and spiritual relationship with the local community is also diachronically maintained, as the church is still in use for its original purposes within the small-scale rural community of the village of Kiti. This relationship, and the perseverance of its cultural values, led to the recognition on behalf of the public authorities and the local community of the need to preserve the monument and establish measures for its protection against modern development and deterioration. The green area developed around the church has secured the natural landscape of the church, while the management plan, focusing on conservation and preservation measures, aims at controlling the impact of deterioration processes.
The church of Panagia Aggeloktisti is declared into the Second Schedule, as per the Antiquities Law, Capital 31, of the Republic of Cyprus, since 1935. According to this Schedule, the owner of the monument, which is the Church of Cyprus, cannot proceed with any alterations or works involving the monument, without the permit of the Director of the Department of Antiquities.
The church of Panagia Aggeloktisti maintains a high level of authenticity in its present state. The consolidation and conservation works undertaken from 1952 to the present day aimed at securing the intactness of its form, design, materials and artistry. These works are well documented and permit the understanding of all values attributed to the monument. The way the monument is preserved reflects its form as it developed throughout antiquity and expresses its Outstanding Universal Value. Conservation works also aimed at preserving and documenting the various phases it underwent in antiquity, including alterations and additions, with a special focus on the maintenance of the artistic splendour of each phase.
An example reflecting the efforts of the Department of Antiquities to maintain the authenticity of the monument is the demolition of the 20th century high bell-tower that was built on the south-eastern corner of the Latin Chapel and its replacement with a smaller one of Gothic type at its south entrance according to its original form. The conservation works undertaken between 2009 and 2011 involved the removal of the wall plaster in the nave, sanctuary and the side aisle chapels, in order to expose the masonry and repoint the mortar joints, again in order to preserve the existing traditions, materials, and techniques.
All attributes relating to authenticity are expressed, as it is particularly evidenced by the fact that it is still used for its original purposes. The attributes of use, function, spirit and feeling, are therefore constant, and most importantly, still operating within the same context, i.e. in the nucleus of the village.
Comparison with other similar properties
The significance of the early Christian monuments presenting masterpieces of the mosaic art has long been acknowledged in the field of cultural heritage, as they portray the splendid artistry of this period, and shed light in the historic development of the mosaic art from the preceding periods (Hellenistic and Roman). They also provide a tangible record concerning the period’s social, historic, religious and political aspects, and elucidate their dissemination within the Mediterranean.
The artistic associations with the wall mosaics from Ravenna, Italy, and the Monastery of St Catherine at Sinai, Egypt, manifest how different regions were influenced by large religious centres. As described in relation to the World Heritage Ravenna Mosaics, their Outstanding Universal Value is “being of remarkable significance by virtue of the supreme artistry of the mosaic art that the monuments contain, and also because of the crucial evidence that they provide for artistic and religious relationships and contacts at an important period of European cultural history”. Indeed, the mosaic of the church of Panagia Aggeloktisti, provides further evidence to these relationships and strengthens the values represented in the afore-mentioned World Heritage Monuments. As it demonstrates features apparent on monumental buildings of this period, it best reflects the wider influence that smaller scale, provincial and in this case island contexts underwent by large centres of Christian art and culture.
The importance of religious monuments with mosaic art in World Heritage is also manifested in the 11th and 12th century monasteries at Daphni, Hossios Luckas in Phocis and Nea Moni at Chios, Greece, decorated with superb mosaics, also in a gold background, characteristic of the “second golden age of Byzantine art”. These similarities suggest the diachronic development of aesthetic characteristics and art.Based on the above, the inscription of this monument in the World Heritage List will shed light to the ways in which mosaic art and architecture developed in small scale, rural, contexts, as well as the diachronic evolution of similar monuments. The benefits that will emerge will be of great importance, as the study of Christian art will become more holistic and will increase scientific information and knowledge.