Prominent historic landmark

In order to meet Omodos, you have to walk along the picturesque, stone paved alleys leading to the heart of the village, where the – probably – biggest square of Cyprus lies. Spreading in 3,000 square metres and dating back to 1910, the village square houses cafes, restaurants and shops with traditional products. What completes this picturesque image is the large Monastery of the Holy Cross, a trademark of the location and history of the village.

Built at the end of Omodos’ square, the Holy Monastery of the Holy Cross stands grandiosely and majestically. Today it is the trademark of the village of Limassol district, a respectable place of pilgrimage for Orthodox Christians everywhere, but also the real jewel of the area, the focus and reference point of Omodos.

According to the archaeologist and Curator of Antiquities, Dr George Filotheou, who took part in the restoration of the Monastery, there are no written testimonies about when exactly it was founded. The Monastery of the Holy Cross was built on the foundations of an older early Christian church, which was probably built in 210 AD. The lack of written and archaeological evidence, however, precludes the exact dating of its founding, which is based solely on the strong tradition that the monastery was founded by Saint Helen.

According to tradition, shortly after the First Ecumenical Council, around 327 AD, Flavia Julia Helen, known as Saint Helen, the mother of Emperor Constantine the Great, made a trip to the Holy Land. Her main motive was to bring to light stories and events from the areas where Jesus Christ had lived.

It stands gloriously in all its majestic appearance

After excavations in Bethlehem and Golgotha, she discovered the places of Birth, Crucifixion and Resurrection of Christ. At the same time, she was founding monasteries and establishing public benefit institutions, maintaining entire communities and helping the inhabitants of the areas in every way possible.

According to the Church, on her journey, she discovered the Holy Cross on which Christ was crucified. Although historians have reservations about this event, the Orthodox and Catholic Churches maintain the tradition. This strong oral tradition supports that on her trip back home, rough seas forced her to stop on the island of Cyprus. Wandering in various villages, she founded churches and monasteries, including the Monastery in Stavrovouni and the church in Tochni.

Then, Saint Helen headed to Omodos, where there a small church dedicated to the Holy Cross already existed. It is said that she granted the chapel a piece of the rope with which the Romans hung Christ and a piece of wood from the Holy Cross. She then stayed for three days in the male convent, in a cell next to the entrance.

The sources traced about the existence of the Monastery are various historical reports from monks or travelers, such as the report of Neophytos Rodinos, in 1659, a literate clergyman from the neighbouring village of Potamiou near Omodos. He wrote that in Omodos “there is another famous church dedicated to the name of the Holy Cross, in which a piece of the Cross Wood and a piece of the Holy Rope are located”. A similar testimony was given by the monk and traveler Vassili Barsky, who visited Omodos in 1735, confirming that the temple of the Holy Cross “holds part of the rope by which Christ was tied during his passions”, which, in fact is “anointed with the blood of Christ.”

The offer of the Monastery to the village has been polymorphous, as apart from being a place of religion and spirituality, it had also been a place of education. In 1796, Klimis Asimides took the initiative of establishing the first school in Omodos. The love of learning displayed by the residents of the area was benefited by the Monastery of the Holy Cross; not only the rooms of the School were housed in it, but also the teaching staff, since the monks were the ones who passed knowledge on to the students. The School was attended both by residents of the surrounding area and by young people from all over Cyprus, as its reputation had traveled beyond the narrow confines of Omodos’ countryside. Through the Monastery of the Holy Cross, the village came to be a centre of letters until 1917, when the School was closed down due to financial difficulties faced by the inhabitants for its preservation.

Some of the most remarkable wood carvings can be found at the Monastery; the gilded iconostasis and the carved railings next to the monks’ cells stand out. Inside the church there are two precious silver crosses. The first incorporates part of the rope with which the Romans hung Christ, and the second encloses a piece of wood from the Holy Cross. Among other objects of value found at the Monastery, is the skull of Saint Philippos, which was transferred to the Monastery from Arsos.

Architecturally, the Monastery is a large two-storey building complex in the shape of Greek letter Π, with tall cells and vaulted arches. The church is framed by the north, west and south, with a single entrance to the east, thus reinforcing the view that the Monastery pre-existed the settlement of Omodos, which was later founded around the Monastery. The church of the Monastery, which was built in 1858, is a typical example of a three-aisled basilica, while the current form of the Monastery is the result of a series of restorations and additions to the main building.

In the middle of the 20th century, around 1946, the Department of Antiquities undertook the restoration of the Monastery, a project which was completed in 2003. In addition to the restoration of the Monastery by the Cypriot authorities, the local community is also showing great interest in honouring and maintaining the Monastery. In fact, they themselves have restored the cells of the Monastery, turning them into historical and cultural museums. Today, the Monastery houses seven museums that present the long history and tradition of the village and Cyprus in general: the Museum of Cyprus Struggle 1955-1959, the Museum of Byzantine Icons, the iconostasis of the Holy Monastery of Kykkos, the Folklore Museum, the Photograph Exhibition and the Lace Rescue Centre. Moreover, the local community organises various activities and events in honour of Oikonomos Dositheos, Quartermaster of the Monastery, one of the Bishops beheaded during the massacre of 9 July 1821. The Monastery also hosts various exhibitions related to the history and tradition of the village.