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December 7, 2017

Saint Ambrose of Kyrenia, A Forgotten Cypriot Saint No Longer Celebrated

Church of Saint Ambrose in Agios Amvrosios (now a mosque)

Agios Amvrosios (Turkish: Esentepe) is a village located in the Kyrenia District of Cyprus, east of Kyrenia. It is under the de facto control of Northern Cyprus since 1972, when the Greek Cypriots were expelled.

The village got its name from a local ascetic saint named Ambrose, where a church is dedicated to his name and had been one of the largest churches of Cyprus, built in 1910. The Church of Saint Ambrose has been now converted into a mosque. Saint Ambrose is numbered among the Saints of Cyprus and had come from Palestine with Saint Epiktetos, who gave his name to the village of Agios Epiktetos, and other monks chased by the Saracens. Saint Epiktetos lived as an ascetic twenty-seven kilometers to the west and Saint Ambrose lived as an ascetic monk in this area. In the confusion of time, instead of honoring Saint Ambrose the local ascetic who became a Saint in Cyprus, some started to honor the more widely known Father of the Church Saint Ambrose, Bishop of Milan. In Cyprus, the replacement Cypriot Saints with other more known Saints bearing the same name is now a common phenomenon, apparently due to ignorance. Whatever the case, today the survivors of the village honor Saint Ambrose, the Bishop of Milan who lived in the fourth century, who is a common Saint for both the Eastern and Western Christians. However, Saint Ambrose of Milan has no direct relationship with this region or Cyprus generally and the tradition of the island does not link this Saint with the local lore, which links them with the local Saint Ambrose of Kyrenia in Cyprus.

The local Saint Ambrose (and not Saint Ambrose of Milan) knew Saint Demitrianos, who lived during the ninth century. At that time Saint Demitrianos was bishop of Chytroi (present day Kythrea). Saint Ambrose sent him by mule drivers hot coals in baskets; Saint Dimitrianos, in return, sent him water from Kephalovryso of Kythrea in baskets as well, which caused surprise among the villagers.

Another local legend involving Saint Ambrose involves Saint Demitrianus. In the far horizon you can see the small rock-island in the Kyrenian sea. According to legend there was a sea-beast terrorizing the villagers of Agios Amvrosios. They asked for Saint Demetrianos' help and Saint Demetrianos transformed the sea-beast into that rock-island. The rock-island is called "shiros" or "katsoshiros" and the area there is called also "shiros". A small seaside chapel was built in honor of Saint Demitrianus.

The memory of the local Saint Ambrose of Kyrenia in Cyprus is not celebrated anymore; Saint Ambrose of Milan is celebrated on December 7th. He remains a hidden treasure among the Cypriot Saints. However, his distant memory is alive in Cyprus through a fresco in the Church of Saint Nicholas of Stegi in the village of Kakopetria (see above). This fresco depicts an ascetic monk who went by the name of Ambrose. Furthermore, his skull is said to be kept at Kykkos Monastery.