Eight kilometres south of Esentepe village, Antiphonitis Church used to be the centre of an influential monastery. It was once the premier Byzantine monument in the Kyrenia hills. Because of its unusual design, it is thought to have been built by local artists.
The church, dedicated to the Virgin Mary, was built in the 7th century. However the narthex to the west and the gallery to the south were added by the Lusignans in the 14th or 15th century.
The dome is placed on eight round columns which form an irregular octagon. The alter area was separated from the rest of the church by keeping two of the columns separated from the walls.
Considering its features, this building is one of the finest of its kind in Cyprus to survive to the present day. The cloister arrangement in the south is a unique example of gothic stone work. However, nothing remains of the wooden upper covering or the stone parapet between the columns.
The building in its original form was fully covered with frescoes, most of which have unfortunately disappeared. Among the survivors, the Virgin Blachernitissa, with the figure of the Christ Child at her bosom and flanked by Gabriel and Michael, occupies the conch of the apse. Blachernitissa is unusual among Orthodox icons in that it is not flat, but is formed in bas relief. According to Sacred Tradition, the icon Blachernitissa was made of wax combined with the ashes of Christian martyrs who had been killed in the 6th century.
Archangel Michael is encountered once more holding a parchment script on the upper part of the detached north column. On the south-west wall of the nave the blue hooded figure of St. Anthony and the scene of the Baptism can be distinguished. On the lower half of the column on this side St. Endoxus and to the left St. Paul are placed.
Of its once vivid and notable frescoes, probably the most magnificent survivor, which can be found in the huge irregularly shaped dome, is the Christ Pandokrator. Represented inside a medallion surrounded by angels, he prepares to ascend the throne, with the Virgin Mary and John the Baptist in attendance. The twelve apostles and the prophets are also present.
That the frescoes here have survived at all is a minor miracle, as thieves have tried twice to literally cut the artwork from the walls. They succeeded once, but a second attempt caused the cut wall section to crumble into pieces on the floor, proving just how delicate these works of art really are. It is estimated that after 1974, over 20,000 icons and dozens of frescoes were taken from North Cyprus churches by unscrupulous looters and sold on the international art market. The scale of the problem was revealed in 1997, when Dutch art dealer Michel van Rijn informed on his former business partner Aydin Dikman. Dikman was found to have a store of mosaics, frescoes and icons worth in excess of $40 million. After agreeing to help the authorities, van Rijn bought four frescoes from Dikman, depicting the Last Judgment and the Tree of Jesse, which were reported missing from Anthipontis Church in 1976 and 1979.
These frescoes were recovered in 1997, when the Cypriot church also began legal proceedings in the Netherlands to recover four icons from Antiphonitis Church. In July 2004, the frescoes finally returned to Cyprus. (Read the full story.)
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