The monastery of Ayia Napa is located in the homonymous village in Ammochostos district. The village got its name from the “Icon of the Virgin Mary of Napa”, which means in Greek “the One of the woods” and thus, she was named “Ayia Napa”.
There is not sufficient evidence as to when the monastery was originally founded. The cave, the hiding place and the well, all testify to the existence of a Christian community from early times. Ayia Napa was given its name before 1366, its first mention. The monastery though, as it is today, is a building of the 16th century when Cyprus was under the sovereignty of the Venetians.
According to local tradition, in the cave that has now become a church, the miraculous icon of the Virgin Mary was found by a hunter. The hunter’s dog was first to see the glowing icon and began barking, insistently calling over his master. A considerable number of believers started visiting the holy place of the cave, as soon as they heard about the discovery of the hidden icon. In the 14th century, a church was furnished into the cave.
Another tradition reports that the daughter of a noble Venetian family took refuge in the cave out of obstinacy, because of her parents’ refusal to allow her marriage with a non-aristocrat. It is said that the wealthy Venetian lady built the church, the cells and a flourmill, on her own expense. It is said that she installed a nunnery. The right aisle of the church, right after the entrance, operated as the Latin chapel. The enormous sycamore tree of the monastery, which is found next to the reservoir, is said to have been planted by the Venetian woman. When the time of her death approached, she built the domed monument. She wished to be buried in this edifice, next to the dew of the reservoir. On the northern side of the courtyard, there is a fountain with the shape of the head of a wild boar. Above that, the two-floor building is standing, in which the Venetian daughter initially lived.
In 1571, Cyprus was conquered by the Ottomans, and the monastery was given to the Orthodox. A plethora of Christian confessions visited the monastery, in order to pay tribute to the famous miraculous icon. The description of Pietro della Valle, visitor in 1625, corresponds precisely to the condition of the monastery as it is today. We are also informed from Pietro della Valle that Ayia Napa owned large amounts of land. For unknown reason, it ceased to have any permanent inhabitants after the year 1758.
The monastery used to be located in an uninhabited area. Around the mid-18th century, the first house of the village was built. The first inhabitants of the village were people from Thessalonica, who abandoned their homeland because of the plague epidemic. Later, in 1813, the monastery was repaired but it did not own a monastic community and therefore, the property of the monastery was rented to local farmers. The buildings of the monastery were used for several needs of the community.
After 1878, when Cyprus was under the British domination, the church of the monastery had become the parish church of the village. Since the 1940s, extensive repairs took place in order to maintain the historic buildings.
Upon the years of the Archbishop Makarios III, the monastery was recommended as the most suitable one to become the Ecumenical Centre of Conference. From 1978 to 2006, the conferences between the Christian Churches of the Middle East were held in the monastery. Since the re-establishment of the diocese of Constantia–Famagusta in 2007, the monastery is administered by this diocese. The reverent Metropolitan bishop of Constantia, Mr. Vassilios, was the first to initiate the establishment of the Cultural Academy “Saint Epifanios” and the monastery itself is its centre. The Academy aims at the cultivation of theological and historical studies, and the organization of meetings and conventions. An ecclesiastical museum will also operate within the buildings of the monastery.
The increasing number of the village’s population raised the need for the building of a new church in 1990. The new church, built on the southwest of the monastery, is also dedicated to the Virgin Mary. Both churches celebrate on the 8th September, the day of the feast of the Virgin Mary’s birth.
By the grace of the Virgin Mary, couples who are infertile and women who are experiencing difficulties during pregnancy, arrive at the monastery to pray for help and request to gird the miraculous belt of Ayia Napa. The monastery is a particularly graceful place, where anyone and everyone with faith, can find comfort and spiritual peacefulness. Our loving All-Holy Mother, everyday opens Her arms to us all, in order to take away our worries and troubles, no matter how severe they seem to be. The Virgin Mary everyday prays for us, for the salvation of our souls.