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The History and Architecture of the Monastery of St. John Chrysostom at Koutsovendis, Cyprus

Tassos C. Papacostas, King’s College London, Summer Fellow 2004

Part of Dumbarton Oaks’ fieldwork in Cyprus during the 1960s was focused on the late eleventh-century Greek Orthodox monastery of St. John Chrysostom at Koutsovendis. At that time, its surviving church of the Holy Trinity was being restored and its frescoes were cleaned and conserved. A preliminary report and a description of the wall-paintings were published (DOP 18 and 44). According to the plan envisaged by Cyril Mango, who initiated the study of this monument, these articles should be complemented by a publication comprising the following chapters:

  1. History
    1. The founder George and the liturgical typikon
    2. The patron Eumathios Philokales
    3. Neophytos the Recluse and the Maronite community
    4. Later history of the monastery (later medieval and modern periods)
  2. Architecture and Sculpture (of the monastic churches)
  3. Iconography (of the surviving frescoes)
  4. Style and Ornament (of the surviving frescoes)

It was agreed that Maria Parani would take charge of the chapters on the frescoes, while I would prepare a major article on the history and architecture/sculpture for publication in DOP.

During the first weeks of my stay here I concentrated on the longest and most complex part of the work, namely sections 1.1 and 1.2. These have now become rather extensive, mainly on account of fresh evidence discovered here. I should stress that the library holdings and the seals collection have been crucial to this work. The latter in particular has provided some important unpublished specimens belonging to the monastery’s patron and his family which supplement the information gleaned from the narrative sources. Specialists and colleagues in other fields have also been very helpful with other aspects of my research, and Michael Grünbart has agreed to edit as an appendix to the publication a letter of Nikon of the Black Mountain to the founder George. This is one of the key sources for the early history of the monastery.

In April 2004, I visited a group of related churches in Cyprus itself. Monuments in other parts of the Byzantine Empire are even more important though for comparative purposes, since the architectural type of the main church (a domed octagon) was introduced here at Koutsovendis for the first time on the island, and its appearance requires some explanation.

Research on the architecture of the monastery’s two churches (the Holy Trinity and the main church, demolished in 1891 and known mainly from descriptions, sketches, and an architectural plan) has been facilitated greatly by the Dumbarton Oaks photographic resources, since the site of Koutsovendis, currently within a military zone, has been inaccessible to scholars since 1974. The photographic archive has also been immensely useful for tracing comparative material.