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|Jurisdiction|| Church of Cyprus |
|Established||circa 4th century|
|Location||Larnaca district, Cyprus|
The monastery Stavrovouni which was constructed on the peak of the mountain of the same name in the District of Larnaca. In earlier times it had been known under the name of Olympus, nowadays, the highest point of Troodos Mountains further to the west bears that name. Stavrovouni, as the name already says, is dedicated to the Holy Cross; it can be derived from two words 'stavros '(cross) and 'vouno' (mountain). According to religious tradition, the monastery was founded by St. Helena, the mother of the Byzantine Emperor Constantine I, the Great. According to the 15th century Cypriot chronicler Leontios Makhairas, Helena had discovered the three crosses on which Jesus and the two thieves had been crucified on her pilgrimage to the Holy Land. She had them excavated and wanted to bring them to Constantinople. But she is said to have left one of these crosses in Cyprus during an involuntary visit caused by shipwreck, and to have presented it to a monastery. Thus the legend.
Stavrovouni is the earliest documented monastery on the island. The oldest written reference dates from the Byzantine period. It proves that Stavrovouni had been an important religious centre since the 4th century. The relevant information is to be found in the memoirs of a Russian traveller, Abbot Daniel, who stayed on Cyprus in 1106. He recorded that the Holy Cross was located on Mount Olympus with objective of 'warding off evil spirits and curing any illness', and he noted: 'This cross is like a meteorite, it is not supported in the ground, because the Holy Ghost holds it in the empty space. I, unworthy man, knelt down before this holy, mysterious object and have seen with my own, sinful eyes the inherent holy grace present in this place.' After its foundation, Stavrovouni was occupied by Orthodox monks living according to the rule of St. Basil. We obtain further historical information from Western visitors to Cyprus in the 13th. century. Willibrandi de Oldenburg, for example, visited Stavrovouni in 1211 and wrote: 'The cross of the Good Thief is on the highest mountain in Cyprus' - which was wrong, as Stavrovouni is not as high as the Troodos peak. Ludolph von Suchen noted in 1305: 'The mountain is like the Mount Tabor on which the Benedictine monks live. From its peak one can see the Lebanon.' That is true, but the weather must be very clear in order to be able to check this.
In its long history, Stavrovouni went through times of great poverty and hardship caused by the most varied invasions by foreigners on the island. Nowadays, the Holy Cross is no longer there and nobody knows what has happened to it. In 1598, the Bohemian nobleman Krystof Harant noted :'Nobody knows what the Turks have done with the Holy Cross .' The walls, the church, the iconostasis and monks' cells in Stavrovouni were almost completely destroyed during a great fire in 1888. The only relic which has been preserved down to the present is a silver cross in which a minute piece of the holy cross is inserted, the only major reliquary which is still kept in Stavrovouni .
Recently, the monastery underwent a complete renovation. Its small church was restored again with frescoes and icons by well-known painter, Fr. Kallinikos, a monk from Stavrovouni. The legend of the foundation is recorded in these pictures, St. Helena in a brilliant red garment and the Finding of the True Cross in Jerusalem. By the way, the emperor's mother recognised that she did have the right cross by the miraculous healing of a woman. Colourful, but also not without the skull painted beneath Christ's Cross for centuries is the Deposition. The majority of the frescoes in the church refer to the Cross and the life of St. Helena. In this manner, Stavrovouni is continuing the deeply-rooted Byzantine painting tradition.
The present monks in Stavrovouni live a very strict form of monastic life, similar to that of the monks on Mount Athos. The rule of their first abbot, Dyonisios, forms the basis of this. Women had been able to visit Stavrovouni until a few years ago, when the monks banned them.