Nestled on the edge of the Kyrenia Mountains, four miles from the city (town?) of Kyrenia, in the Turkish-occupied North of the Cyprus sits what the pamphlet given to visitors there describes as the best piece of Gothic Architecture in the Near East: the Abbaye de la Belle Paix, in the village of Bellapais which takes its name from the abbey.
Bellapais abbey was founded in the late 1100s when monks were forced to flee the Holy Land following Saladin’s unification of the Islamic forces and ‘reconquest’* of much of the territory, including Jerusalem in 1197. The pamphlet given at the historic site says it was founded by Augustinians; Wikipedia clarifies that they were Premonstratensian. Premonstratensians are an order of canons regular, and, therefore, follow the Rule of St Augustine. These canons came from the Holy Land and founded their abbey in the picturesque Kyrenia Mountains.
Cyprus is the crossroads of the Eastern Mediterranean.
The structure itself is 13th-century and has almost everything you want from Gothic abbeys — a cloister, a chapter house, grotesques (or at least carven figures on architectural elements) and an empty Greek Orthodox Church — original the canons’ chapel.
Rick and I visited on Friday. Here are some of my photos from the trip.
The Chapter House? Unlike words like ‘dormitory’ and ‘refectory’, this one’s not immediately discernable as to what it was. The Chapter House is where all the brothers of an abbey, in this case called ‘canons’, would have met daily. The abbot would have presided over a meeting that began with the reading of a chapter from the Rule of St Augustine (amongst Benedictines, it would have been Benedict’s), and they would have dealt with certain aspects of Abbey business. Hence it’s name.
*Given that he’s not a Fatimid, is it really a reconquest? Because if Saladin’s is a reconquest, then so was that of the Crusaders in 1099. Anyway…