A haven for a Saint and today's tourist - Agios Neophytos Monastery
From the hotel, Ayios (Saint) Neophytos Monastery is not very far, and there are several ways to reach it - each one of them an interesting drive. You can take a little excursion through Pegia (Peyia) Kethikas, Stroumpi Tsada (all worth seeing), turning right for Tremithousa and thence back northwards to Agios Neophytos.
When you arrive, you will find a site commanding views over the Paphos seascape from its 612 m (1694 feet) height. You can imagine the beauty and isolation a thousand years ago, which attracted an extraordinary, self-taught, hermit called Neophytos to settle there from 1159 AD onwards.
Neophytos, born in Kato Dhrys, a small village near Kato Lefkara (not far from Larnaca) in 1134, had been marked down by his family for marriage, but unable to face this, runoff and sought refuge in the monastery of Ayios Krysostomos near Buffavento. He was discovered and taken home but convinced his parents that it would be better for him “to embrace a monastic life than bride”. This decision made, he set off to the hills of Paphos. Upon arrival, he dug himself a cave in which he lived and reflected. This may be seen to the left of the monastery of today, which was built in the 15th century. Perhaps he would have liked to have been left alone, in which case there would have been no Sainthood nor monastery. But like-minded soles found him, including a prelate name Basil, who persuaded him to become a monk.
It was not too many years before Neophytos attracted several followers, which upset his desire for solitude, and he excavated another cave for himself higher up the hill.
We, people of the 21st century, may perhaps sympathize with him - at least those of us who have found a nice quiet location for a retirement or holiday home, only to find, after a few years, many others have the same idea!
Anyway, there he spent his remaining years, emerging only on Sundays to preach to his followers. It is said that he made a retractable ladder, to ensure his own peace on other days. He wrote several scholarly books and theological tracts, one of which included a description of Richard the Lion Heart as “a wretch”. He was equally disparaging of the other protagonist in the struggle for Cyprus, Isaac Comnenus.
Ayios Neophytos is an independent monastery within the Diocese of Paphos. The large compound of a square perimeter cloister encloses a garden with an aviary. The gardens bear olive and fruit trees, said to have been first cultivated by the Saint himself, and there is a truly wide variety of things to occupy the visitor’s interest.
Among the ancient excavations, there is the extraordinary cave named Enkleistra, in which Neophytos lived, with a coffin in which it is believed he slept, and a cupboard filled with skulls of his departed followers. In the caves, there are frescoes, which may well have been the work of the Saint and his followers.
In the little chapel, there is a simple wooden cross and frescoes restored in 1992, which illustrates the great events of Christ’s life. These are outstandingly beautiful. Styles are varied and show the influence of the visitors/invaders on this island. Perhaps the most expiring are the two Icons: “The Adoration of the Magi” and “Christ”, in which a blue-clad Christ is seen teaching his Apostles and Neophytos, who is flanked by Archangels Gabriel and Michael. As one walks around one is conscious of the immense personality and spirituality of the man who inspired those works and the dedication of the followers.
Amid the hustle and bustle of our frantic lives, a visit to Ayios Neophytos not only makes us aware of our spirituality but of the need to maintain a perspective, in which, for part of our lives at least, we seek a little solitude and time to relax and be in peace.