October 21, 2023

The Five-Domed Church of Peristerona

By Father Michael Nikolaos

The Byzantine five-domed Church of Saints Barnabas and Hilarion, located in Peristerona of Cyprus, is certain to have been built on top of an earlier church. This was proven after archaeological excavations carried out in 1959, where a semi-circular synthronon within the apse of the sanctuary and further west a base of a straight stone iconostasis came to the surface.

These justify us in saying that the first temple had the form of a three-aisled vaulted Basilica that was probably built during the period of the Arab invasions. A part of the northern wall is still preserved from the original church, integrated into the western part of the northern wall of the current church under the newer bell tower.

The current temple was built around 1100 AD and has the form of a three-aisled Basilica whose aisles are separated from each other by walls which have arched openings, and end to the east in semicircular panels pierced by windows and decorated externally by semicircular clamshells. The central dome of the temple rests on four strong gamma-shaped piers and instead of sections of arch to the east and west of the dome, which we would see in a church of the inscribed cruciform with dome type, we see here two equal-sized to the central dome. The other two aisles, north and south of the church are covered by a continuous semi-cylindrical arch or which is interrupted in the middle by two small domes placed on either side, but at the same height of the central dome of the middle aisle. Thus, when you see the church from the outside and especially from a panoramic view, you get the impression that it is cruciform, while inside there is clearly the image of a three-aisled basilica.

The narthex was added a little later in the 12th century but the facade of the church underwent significant changes due to wear and tear in 1931.

This church together with that of Saint Paraskevi in Geroskipou are the only ones of their kind in Cyprus. However, it has better proportions, more elaborate masonry than it and a structure of semicircular arches similar to churches of the School of Constantinople. It has as its model the destroyed church of the Holy Apostles in Constantinople.

In December 2005, the Department of Antiquities completed a series of works that began in March 2003 and concerned the maintenance and restoration of the Temple in its former form. In particular, all the plaster coatings were removed from the entire internal masonry, resulting in the appearance and preservation or replacement of the pumice tufa and stones. The entire external masonry also received cleaning and maintenance from the wear and tear of time. The floor was also removed, replaced by slabs of Cypriot plaster. Finally, the bell tower of the church, a small part of which at the top was replaced, and the wood-carved iconostasis of the middle aisle inside the church received maintenance.

In many places inside the temple there are remains of frescoes which suggest that the temple was painted in its entirety. A fresco of the Virgin and Child in the north-east pier at the height of the 12th-century iconostasis and one of the prophet David on the west side of the north-west central pier, from the 16th century, are preserved in fairly good condition.

Finally, it is worth mentioning that in addition to the holy relics and the remarkable portable icons of various eras, the holy relics of Saints Barnabas and Hilarion are kept in our church as well as their Byzantine portable icon and both are processed on October 21, during their sacred festival.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.


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