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E01338: The church of Panagia Kanakaria at Lythrankomi (north-eastern Cyprus) houses a mosaic with depictions of Christ, *Mary (Mother of Christ, S00033), unnamed *Archangels (almost certainly *Michael, S00181, and *Gabriel, S00192), and with labelled depictions of *Apostles and *Evangelists. Probably 525-550.

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posted on 2016-05-03, 00:00 authored by Bryan
Four Cypriot churches: Panagia Kanakaria at Lythrankomi, Panagia Angeloktistos at Kiti ($E01339), Panagia tes Kyras near Livadia ($E01340), and the episcopal basilica of Kourion ($E01341), house pre-iconoclastic mosaics with depictions of Christ, *Mary, Mother of Christ, *Archangels, *Apostles, and *Evangelists. Arthur Megaw and Ernst Hawkins suppose that the mosaics survived iconoclasm, because Cyprus was exempted, as neutral ground, from direct Byzantine authority after the the treaty of 688 between Justin II and 'Abd al-Malik, and thus the imperial iconoclastic policy was not enforced there.

The church of the Panagia Kanakaria at Lythrankomi, 34 miles northeast of Farmagusta (northeastern Cyprus), was first surveyed in 1895 by Jakov Smirnov, Russian archaeologist and medievalist art historian, travelling across the Balkans, the Crimea, Palestine, and Armenia. The scholar identified the apse mosaic, preserved in the church, as a rare pre-iconoclastic work. The restoration of the church began after World War II, under the auspices of the Church authorities and the Cyprus Department of Antiquities, which greatly enriched our knowledge of this depiction. The results of the restoration programme were described in 1977 by Arthur Megaw and Ernst Hawkins in the book: The Church of Panagia Kanakariá at Lythrankomi in Cyprus. Its mosaics and frescoes.

The present church is a basilica with three barrel-vaulted aisles, three apses, and a narthex. The structure has four domes: one over the central bay of the narthex, two over the nave, and one over the bema. It is supposed that the original, probably 5th c., building consisted of only one apse and the aisles were covered by a wooden roof. The church was refurbished at least three times thereafter (in the so-called “dark ages”, after the re-establishment of Byzantine rule in 965, and in the 15th c., under Venetian rule).

The church also houses a number of later paintings of Mary, Christ, Archangels, and Saints (e.g. St George, St Barbara, etc.), which are not discussed here. The east wall above and on either side of the apse could also have been decorated by mosaics, but the surface is partially damaged and partially concealed by the secondary vaulting of the bema, so they have not been studied so far. It has been reported that some of the mosaics of Panagia Kanakaria were looted by art thieves after the division of Cyprus in 1974 and before 1989. Their parts were illegaly put up for sale in Indianapolis, Indiana (USA); others were distributed in Europe (see: Michaelides 1989, 199; Van der Werff 1989, 28).

The apse mosaic:

The mosaic in the central apse of the church is set in the conch, originally 2.44 m deep, 4.78 m wide, and 2.66 m high. It was damaged by an earthquake in 1941. A significant part of the mosaic was detached and fell. Other parts were concealed in modern times. The preserved surface of the mosaic was exposed in 1950 under Arthur Megaw. It was cleaned and repaired during several campaigns in 1952-1954, and further conservation was conducted under Ernst Hawkins in 1961, 1966, and 1970. The mosaic is divided into two parts: the Main Composition with Mary and Child, and the so-called Apostle Border, to mask the change in curvature between the conch and the plaster bed lined up with the soffit of the arch, carried by two pilasters.

The Main Composition:

The Main Composition is on the inner part of the conch. Its programme is not related to the Border. The partially preserved mosaic shows Mary, Mother of Christ, seated on a throne with a cushion and footstool, and holding her Child on her lap, within a mandorla, flanked by two unlabelled Archangels (presumably Michael and Gabriel) and palm trees.

Both Mary and Christ face the viewer. The head of Mary is lost, but the rest of the southern half of the figure is preserved. She is wearing a blue maphorion, over a purple chiton.

The Christ Child is almost completely preserved. His right knee is raised. He is dressed in a cream-coloured himation and is holding the scroll of the New Law.

The depictions of archangels are partially lost. The north Archangel is shown in a slightly oblique view, advancing to the centre of the image and extending his right hand toward Mary and Christ. He is wearing a blue chiton and a light olive-brown himation. He has a golden staff with a small spherical head. The south Archangel is almost completely lost, only the right forearm and a part of the open hand survived. One can see the sleeve of his light blue chiton.

The Apostle Border:

The soffit is decorated with a band (c. 0.49 m wide) with thirteen medallions, enclosing labelled busts of Apostles and Evangelists. The diameter of the medallions is 0.45 m. The central medallion, and the two uppermost are lost, several others are damaged. The medallions have a purple-brown outline, on the north side of the arch bordered with light olive-brown glass and white marble, and on the south side of the arch with light olive-brown and a paler shade. The busts are shown on a blue background.

The medallion with the bust of Paul, the top one on the north side, is exceptional: its background is light purple, and the colours of the outline are interchanged. Probably the lost medallion of Peter, sited on the opposite side of the arch, was identical.

Each of the figures is wearing a himation over a chiton. The Four Evangelists are carrying Gospels. The names are written vertically in two columns on either side of their nimbi (this break is marked below by the double vertical line ||).

The north side, downwards:

Paul (much damaged): [Π|Α]|̣Υ||[Λ|Ο|C]
Andrew: Α|Ν|ΔΡ|Ε||Α|C
Matthew: Μ|Α|Τ||Θ|Ε|Ο|C
Jude Thaddaeus: Θ|Α|Δ||Δ|Ε|Ο|C
Mark: Μ|Α|Ρ||Κ|Ο|C
Thomas: Θ|Ω||Μ|Α|C

The South side, downwards:

Peter (lost)
John (lost)
Philip (damaged): [ΦΙ|ΛΙ|Π]||Π|Ο|C
Luke (damaged): [Λ|Ο|Υ]||Κ|Α|C
James: Ι|Α|Κ|Ο||Β|Ο|C
Bartholomew: Β|̣Α|̣Ρ|ΘΩ||Λ|Ο|ΜΕ|ΟC

Arthur Megaw and Marina Sacopoulo supposed that the picture was explicitly Chalcedonian, as Christ is surrounded by two "frames": the body of Mary, symbolising his human nature; and the mandorla, referring to his divine one.

Dating: Probably 525-550 (independently dated by Megaw and Hawkins, and Sacopoulo, based on the style of the mosaic). A painted Greek inscription from one of the piers of the south arcade in the church (see: Megaw & Hawkins 1977, 148; Smirnov 1897, 68), commemorates the restoration of the church probably in c. 860-865 (the date is established based on the reference in line 7 to Solomon of Jerusalem, probably identical with the patriarch in office in the mentioned period). The apse mosaic certainly predates this restoration.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Mary, Mother of Christ : S00033 Michael, the Archangel : S00181 Gabriel, the Archangel : S00192 Paul, the Apostle : S00008 Andrew, the Apostle : S00288 Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist : S00791 Mark the Evangelist : S00293 Thomas, the Apostle :

Saint Name in Source

[Πα]ῦ[λος] Ἀνδρέας Ματθέος Μᾶρκος Θωμᾶς Θαδδέος [Φίλιπ]πος [Λου]κᾶς Ἰάκοβος Ἰάκοβος Βαρθωλομέος Ἰάκοβος

Type of Evidence

Images and objects - Wall paintings and mosaics Inscriptions - Formal inscriptions (stone, mosaic, etc.) Archaeological and architectural - Cult buildings (churches, mausolea) Images and objects - Representative images


  • Greek

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Aegean islands and Cyprus

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc


Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)

Lythrankomi Salamis Σαλαμίς Salamis Salamis Farmagusta Far Κωνσταντία Konstantia Constantia

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Renovation and embellishment of cult buildings

Cult activities - Use of Images

  • Public display of an image


Edition: Megaw, A.H.S., Hawkins, E.J.W., The Church of the Panagia Kanakaria at Lythrankomi in Cyprus. Its Mosaics and Fescoes (Washington: Dumbarton Oaks Center for Byzantine Studies, Trustees for Harvard University, Locust Valley, N.Y: distributed by J. J. Augustin, 1977). Michaelides, D., Karageorghis V., Cypriot Mosaics (Nicosia: Published by the Dept. of Antiquities, Cyprus, 1987), 54-55, nos. 67-68. Further reading: Halkin, F., “Inscriptions grecques relatives à l'hagiographie. Supplément”, Analecta Bollandiana 71 (1953), 339. Megaw, A.H.S., “The mosaics in the church of Panayia Kanakaria in Cyprus”, in: Atti dello VIII Congresso internazionale di studi bizantini, Palermo 3-10 aprile 1951, special issue of Studi bizantini e neoellenici 8 (1953), 199-200. Michaelides, D., "The early Christian mosaics of Cyprus", The Biblical Archaeologist: From Ruins to Riches: CAARI on Cyprus 52/4 (1989), 192-202. Sacopoulo, M., La Théotokos à la mandorle de Lythrankomi (Paris: Paris : G.-P. Maisonneuve & Larose, 1975). Smirnov, J.I., “Hristianskija mozaiki Kipra”, Vizantijski Vremennik 4 (1897), 1-93. Tronzo, W., “Lythrankomi”, in: A.P. Kazhdan and others, The Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium (New York, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991). Van der Werff, ., Information Report of the Cultural Heritage of Cyprus Presented by the Committee on Culture and Education to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe 6 July. Document 6079.

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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