May 12, 2018

The Basilica of Saint Epiphanios in Salamis of Cyprus

Saint Epiphanios was the Bishop of Salamis, known then as Constantia (named after Emperor Constantius II who had rebuilt Salamis after the devastating earthquakes in 350), from 368 to 403 AD; it is believed that it was during this period the basilica was built, probably around 400. It was constructed to proclaim the predominance of Christianity in a setting that was still mixed with paganism and shifting. Salamis was the administrative capital of the island, the former home town of Saint Barnabas, and it served as the seat of the Archbishop. One tradition also says that the basilica was built on the site where Saint Barnabas was martyred. According to the Acts of Barnabas, he was taken out of town and burned by the hippodrome. Nearby the basilica is a massive temple of Zeus, where Epiphanios miraculously found a large amount of gold in this temple with which to finance his building project. Along with this money, he also used the donations of grateful patrons who ascribed miracles to the Saint.

Once completed archaeologists believe that it could have covered over 100,000 square feet, making it the largest basilica on the island. Saint Epiphanios had been buried here after his death in 403 with the permission of Emperor Arcadius, though the building was yet unfinished, but his relics were brought to Constantinople in the early tenth century (his marble tomb can still be seen at the end of the south aisle of the basilica). Today the ruins are 58m X 42m.

When the basilica was expanded and renovated after the Arab raids that lasted over two hundred years, it was the first multi-dome church to be built in Cyprus, and the first of the three-domed churches. All later churches of that period copied the style of Saint Epiphanios Basilica. The basilica was destroyed in the Arab attack of 648-649 and replaced by a small church to the east, between the south apse and baptistry. The tomb of the Saint was included in the narthex of the new church.

The basilica consists of a nave separated from its five aisles by two rows of fourteen columns (originally the church had seven aisles). At one end there is a triple-arched semi-circular apse with seats for the bishop and clergy. Rooms on either side of the apse were used for dressing and storage. Outside the aisles were narrow passages with stairs leading to the galleries. There were also corridors outside the aisles for the catechumens preparing for baptism. The baptistry is to the east of the main building, and is the usual Cypriot type with a sunken font in the shape of a cross. Hypocaust remains in the baptistery lead us to believe that baptisms by full immersion were carried out in the winter with warm water, as well as in the summer.

Photo above shows the tomb of St. Epiphanios, photo below shows the nave.

Apse and Transept