Home > Archaeology, Byzantium, Cyprus, Late Antiquity > Indigenous Archaeology Georgian Style

Indigenous Archaeology Georgian Style

One of the most exciting afternoon from this year in Cyprus involved a trip to the ruined monastery at Yialia in the mountains about Polis on the Western side of Cyprus.  According to textual sources, Georgian monks founded the monastery on the island in the 10th century and it was occupied until the 14th century.  The church is currently under study by a group of archaeologists from the Republic of Georgia with support, apparently, from the Archbishop of Cyprus.


The monastic church itself is a traditional Athonite plan with its characteristic triconch arrangement. Massive cisterns, storeroom, and living quarters for the monks (apparently) extend from the church’s southern side. The monastic church underwent several significant modifications in plan including an extension to the narthex, rather significant adjustments to the eastern end of the church, a chapel annex on the northern side, and a very strange tetrapylon type structure abutting the southern apse of the Athonite triconch.  The ruins preserve some wall painting on the upper, more sheltered parts of the collapsed vaults, as well as some better preserved frescoes which were built around during the buildings numerous modifications.


The most interesting thing about this very curious building is how it is used today.  The ruins of the church are currently used for the celebration of liturgy.  A portable altar and prothesis stand at the eastern end of the church despite the ruinous condition of the sanctuary space.


Incense burners and evidence for the burning of candles dot the various ledges and niches of the ruined walls.  The practice of re-using excavated, yet nevertheless consecrated sacred space is not entirely rare.  I observed a similar phenomenon at the church of St. Tychon near Amathous, for example.  It does, however, shed some valuable light on the intersection of long-standing forms of religious archaeology (dream archaeology being just one example) and modern “scientific” archaeological practice.  This kind of provision use of a ruined church may also reflect some of the practices common to ancient and Byzantine Christianity where churches damaged by earthquakes or neglect continue to be places of intermittent devotional practices.


Making this point all the more clear, a casket occupies of the center of the nave.  Apparently the excavations revealed a number of burials around the church and the monastic complex.  A few of these burials appear to be marked by small, Georgian style crosses.


It seems reasonable to assume that the remains from these excavated grave sites are placed in the conspicuous casket.  Apparently, the Georgian church plans to build a new monastery nearby and perhaps the bones of these now excavated monks will be brought to rest there.


The architecture, decoration, inscriptions (some in Georgian), and artifacts from this church will surely contribute to our understanding of the multi-ethnic character of Medieval Cyprus.  More than that, however, the combination of “scientific” archaeology and Christian devotional practices shows the potential for a kind of indigenous archaeological practice to exist alongside largely “western” (by some definition) archaeological practices, methods, and presumably epistemology.

  1. June 30, 2010 at 11:00 am

    Splendid post and a fascinating view of how history continues! I hope you will follow-up on this church over the years.

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