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Ekleistra Neophitos

The twelfth-century Enkleistra of Neophytos is comprised of painted caves hewn out of the cliffs at Tala, near the city of Paphos. Neophytos used the Greek word Enkleistra for his hermitage because he lived there as a recluse. In his initial cell on the site, Neophytos lived from 1159 and for thirty-seven years, spending his days praying, studying, and writing. An altar, dedicated to the Holy Cross, was founded there ab initio.

This private retreat of hermit Neophytos soon attracted a small monastic community and cells were constructed close by. During his stay at the monastery, both his cell and an adjacent rock-cut church of the Holy Cross were adorned with Byzantine-style wall paintings at different times in the Middle Ages. After 1197, Neophytos confined himself in a new cell, higher up the cliff, yet again decorated with wall paintings. In about 1215, Neophytos was buried in his initial cell, in a painted tomb he had hewn out of the rock. After his death, the monastic community continued in existence and the first major renovation of the church took place in 1503, led by a monk called Neophytos who styled himself as the “new founder”. Neophytos’ holy remains were still in the cell up to the first half of the eighteenth century, attracting visitors as the graffiti on the walls betrayed.

In the middle of the eighteenth century, the relics of Neophytos were translated to the church of the Virgin Mary which had been built in the vicinity of the Enkleistra in the beginning of the sixteenth century. Today, this church still houses his relics and serves as the katholikon of Saint Neophytos monastery. Over the last century, the exterior of the Enkleistra complex underwent interventions as is also demonstrated by early collotypes and photographs. The aforementioned adaptations, overpaintings, renovations and restorations reveal the major challenges for digitally presenting the nature of the site in the Middle Ages.

monument timeline

24 June 1160

(feast day of Saint John the Baptist), that is one year after Neophytos found this cave as his ascetic retreat. Over this first year of his stay, Neophytos transformed the cave into his hermitage, which he named Enkleistra, created an altar, and prepared his tomb.

14 September 1160

(feast day of the discovery of the Holy Cross by Saint Helena), he dedicated this altar to the Holy Cross.

After Neophytos was ordained priest in 1170-ca. 1171

The Enkleistra began to develop into a regular monastery with a small number of monks and the help of a subsidy provided by the bishop of Paphos to meet the extra expenses involved. In this phase, we can assume that a partition wall was built to separate his cell from the rest of the Enkleistra where the altar was.

By 1196

The Enkleistra expanded. Its refectory and church of the Holy Cross were formed in their current shape.


Neophytos confined himself in a new cell, higher up the cliff and attended the liturgy from the Hagiasterion, that is above the entrance to the church of the Holy Cross. We can assume that the templon with two icons was created in the church of the Holy Cross during this phase. By May 1214, the monastery allowed up to fifteen or even eighteen monks and Esaias, Neophytos’s nephew, was its priest and monk.

About 1215

Neophytos died and was buried in his initial cell at the site. Fulfilling his testament, the tomb was walled off.

December 1523

Patriarch Jeremias I of Constantinople visited the Enkleistra and spent the turn of the year at the monastery on his way to Jerusalem and Sinai.


Leonida Attar’s Venetian map mentioned the site as the monastery of the Enkleistra.


The Russian pilgrim Vasily Grigorovich visited the caves and wrote that the paintings ‘induce contrition in every devout worshipper’.

7 October 1931

Georgios A. Soteriou (Professor of Christian Archaeology and Palaeography at the University of Athens and Director of the Byzantine and Christian Museum of Athens) called for the declaration of the “Enkleistra of Saint Neophytos Monastery” as Archaeological and Historical Site in his list of the prominent Byzantine monuments in Cyprus as published in the journal of the Church of Cyprus (Apostolos Varnavas)


The Department of Antiquities of Cyprus declared the “Enkleitstra of Saint Neophytos Monastery” as an Ancient Monument of Second Schedule.


Antonis C. Indianos and G.H. Thomson published the first article on the Enkleistra’s wall paintings, bearing the title “Wall paintings at St. Neophytos Monastery” in the journal Kypriakai Spoudai (Cypriot Studies).


I. P. Tsiknopoulos published the first book in Greek on the monastery of Saint Neophytos.

Spring of 1963

The Dumbarton Oaks in collaboration with the Department of Antiquities of the Republic of Cyprus undertook a restoration campaign at the Enkleistra of Neophytos.


Ioannis P. Tsiknopoulos published the first book in English on the Enkleistra of Saint Neophytos.


The findings of the Dumbarton Oaks restoration campaign were published by Cyril Mango and Ernest J. W. Hawkins in the Dumbarton Oaks Papers, in the article “The Hermitage of St. Neophytos and Its Wall Paintings”.