The Hermitage (enkleistra) of Saint Neophytos is one of the most celebrated Byzantine twelfth-century monuments worldwide, given the high quality and the unique iconographic program of its frescoes, encountered nowhere else in the Byzantine world, as well as the fact that the whole complex was cut in rock.
The monument is connected with an important intangible heritage. In fact, the community that was built and organised around Neophytos has been the centre of intellectual production with strong connections to the Byzantine elites of the island and the capital of the Byzantine empire (Constantinople), during the tumultuous period spanning the last decades of the Byzantine era -which ended with the conquest of the island by Richard the Lionheart in 1191- through the first decades of the Frankish period of Cyprus.
The intellectual production at the Enkleistra is evidenced by the writings of Neophytos and the composition of the pictorial narratives of the frescoes. The latter have been studied extensively in the past, whereas the writings of Neophytos, as well as the artefacts produced by or connected to the members of the circle of Neophytos â€“both monks and laymenâ€“ have made the object of far less studies.
Life of Saint Neophythos
Saint Neophytos the Recluse (1134-ca.1214) is one of the most important Cypriot Saints and historic figures. He was a prolific writer who composed his biography, an account of the first years of the Latin conquest of the island, as well as several theological treatises. At the age of 17 he became monk at Koutsoventis Monastery. In search of the solitary life, he quitted this Monastery two years later. After many adventures he decided to become an ascetic at the mountainous area above the city of Paphos. In 1159 he started building his cell, by enlarging and modifying an already existing cave, which was expanded into a complex comprising three caves: the Cell, the Bema and the Naos dedicated to the Holy Cross.
Neophytos soon became a well-known spiritual figure and in 1170 he was forced by Basil Kinnamos, the bishop of Paphos at the time, to accept a disciple. During this same period, the Enkleistra began to be extended and was adorned with paintings, while the whole cliff was excavated for the creation of additional cells. This extension phase included possibly as well the Refectory, which it was also adorned. According to Neophytosâ€™ testimony, however, the Naos was excavated in 1183. The increasing number of pilgrims visiting him, obliged Neophytos to dig another cave above the first one (the so-called New Zion), in search of solitude and inner peace. This latter cave was completed and painted by the end of 1197. According to written testimonies, the Enkleistra was painted in 1183 by Theodoros Apseudis, likely a Constantinopolitan painter who came to Cyprus at the instigation of the bishop of Paphos Basil Kinnamos. To the same painter are also attributed the Bema and the Naos of the church of the Virgin at Lagoudera (UNESCO World Heritage monument in Cyprus, dated ca. 1192), as well as at least seven icons currently owned by different ecclesiastical institutions in Cyprus.