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Travels to Odomos and the Timios Stavros Monastery (Monastery of the Holy Cross)
Travels to Odomos and the Timios Stavros Monastery
(Monastery of the Holy Cross)
Evgenia Bravo
Author: Evgenia Bravo
Translation: Frances Ransome
Photo: Daria Saulskaia

Odomos is an ancient mountain village in the Troodos mountains at 800m above sea level. Odomos has a lot to offer tourists: picturesque landscapes, ancient buildings and narrow village lanes, famous wines, cosy restaurants and, of course, the Timios Stavros Monastery. The village is 42 kilometers to the north-west of Limassol so it's possible to go there on a day-trip returning to the city to stay the night.

At the end of the Byzantine period, the settlement of Kupetra stood where modern-day Odomos is now. Legend has it that it is where the tyrant Isaac Komnenos hid from the King of England, Richard the Lionheart, in the early 12th century.

On medieval maps, the village is marked as Homodos, Homosios and Omodos.

There are three theories of how the village got its name. The first says it comes from the word “modos” ("not in a hurry”), the second posits that it is from the adverb “omu” (“with”) and the word “odos” (“street”) and is due to the many streets leading from Omodos to nearby villages. The third theory refers to French documents, which establish that the feudal lord Homodeus held power in this region of Cyprus.

In 2011, the village's population was 311 people. They mostly farm grapes and other fruit trees that grow well in this area. As well as that, the women of Omodos do embroidery and other home-made crafts while the men make glass and silverware and engravings. You can see folk art in the village houses: old tall beds, carved sofas, silkworm cocoon frames on the walls and many other examples.

The village's main attraction is Timios Stavros Monatery but there are plenty of other sights worth checking out: the Socratos house museum, small private museums and wineries, and the narrow cobbled village streets. As a lot of tourists spend most of their day in Odomos, there are several cosy restaurants offering a good lunch menu or just the chance to relax.

Timios Stavros Monatery

It is believed that the inhabitants of the mountain village of Kupetra, which was very close to the modern-day village of Omodos in ancient times, found a miraculous cross that worked wonders in one of the nearby caves. People came from all over the island to see the cross and soon a monastery was established near the cave.

Another legend tells of the mother of Constantine the Great, the Empress Helen, and the sign she saw that compelled her to build churches and monasteries on the island. The legend says the Empress took shelter from a storm in the small bay off the coast of Cyprus on her way back from Jerusalem, where she had come across the Life-giving Cross and other relics. During the storm, the cross disappeared and started to hover over the top of Mount Stavrovouni. The monastery was founded in that very place and St. Helen gave a part of the Life-giving Cross to the monastery, which is kept there to this day.

The first written reference to the monastery is found in Tales of the Sweet Land of Cyprus by Leontios Makhairas, a medieval Cypriot chronicler in the Lusignan era. Leontios was in favour of the version stating the monastery in Omodos was built at the order of the Empress Helen.

There is further evidence in the form of an edict issued by the Sultan of the Sublime Porte in 1700, which banned the destruction of the monastery and the destruction of its land.

In the 17th century, Neophytos Rodinos, a Cypriot chronicler, mentioned the monastery in his book, Heroes, Generals, Saints, Philosophers and Other Outstanding Cypriots, and noted that the monastery has both a part the Life-giving Cross as well as a piece of the holy rope used to tie Christ to the Cross. Both of which were brought by St. Helen from Jerusalem. This was confirmed by the pilgrim, Vasily Grigorovich-Barsky, who visited Timios Stavros Monastery in 1735. Grigorovich-Barsky confirmed that the Holy Rope really is in the monastery's church and has traces of the crucified Saviour’s blood.

It is believed that the first church was built over a small chapel in the cave where (or above where) the miraculous cross was discovered. Over time, people learned about the church and moved closer to it: thus the village of Omodos came into being.

The monastery complex is made up of the holy monastery and its main church. In the mid 19th century, the ancient Byzantine church was greatly expanded and rebuilt and that is what we can still see today. It is a vaulted three-nave basilica fortified with solid external arched niches with large windows, which provide a source of natural daylight, and internal arched ribs. The light also pours in through small windows cut in triangular gables that frame the upper part of the roof.

The eastern part of the church is adorned with a pentahedral apse and the bell tower, which you can access from the altar. The windows and portals into the church are decorated with stained glass windows and the walls are bedecked with murals depicting Jesus being removed from the Cross and the Myrrhbearers at the empty tomb.

The holy relics, which include are skull of the Apostle Phillip, the incorruptible remains of the Apostle Barnabas — the founder of the Church of Cyprus, the saints Hilarion, Pantaleon, Procopius, Tryphon, and the martyrs Mary, Anastacia, and Photina are kept in silver tabernacles and shrines.

The church's central nave is decorated with an episcopal throne and a tall pulpit (from the former church) as well as a white-stone balcony.

The three-tiered iconostasis, gilded and with coloured inserts has images of Christ Pantocrator, the Virgin Hodegetria, John the Baptist, John the Theologian and St. Spyridon. The main cross with part of Holy Rope is hidden behind a velvet curtain and is in the centre of the iconostasis next to the Image of the Saviour.

The silver cross itself with a fragment of the Life-giving Cross is in the southern aisle of the church. You can touch the sacred relics through small doors in the centre of the metal covering.

A bust of the priest Dositheos has been installed at the entrance to the monastery. He was hanged in 1821 for being involved in the preparations for the liberation uprising against Ottoman rule. Dositheos was a patriot and did a lot to develop and further the prosperity of the monastery.

The western part of the modern-day monastery complex houses the Museum of Byzantine Art, which has an extensive collection of ancient icons and holy vessels, as well as a collection of holy images and many icons.

The two-storey buildings around the edge of the courtyard were designed for horses, livestock and storage (in the southern part), and monastic cells, the Synod and a room for pilgrims (in the northern part).

The former hall of the Synod is currently home to the National Struggle Museum, which has displays of the personal belongings, uniform, photos and other documents belonging to those that fell in the war for the liberation of Cyprus from the British colonial administration in 1955-1959.

The monastery's wardens and guides will tell pilgrims and guests about its history and relics in great detail, show visitors to the cell where, legend has it, St. Helen stayed, and share all their knowledge with great enthusiasm.

The monastery is not open these days but is the parish church in Omodos.

The Socratos house museum, and Odomos' other private museums

The Socratos house museum is one of the village's main tourist attractions. The founder of the museum, a local resident named Socratos, has hung photographs of his relatives on the walls of his house and also displayed local dresses and household items used by generations gone by. Therefore, tourists can get learn more about the Cypriot peasant traditions.

You are first invited to walk around a small exhibition in the hallway and residential rooms of the house, then you will be led down to the wine cellar where you can taste (and, if you want, buy) local home-made wine.

As well as the Socratos house museum, there are other private museums in the village. Some of them are in old buildings that are interesting in their own right in terms of history and architecture. They are made of stone and clay and are characterised by their thick walls. Their roofs are tiled and the doors and entranceways are made of wood.

Inside these private museums, there are displays of antique furniture: tall beds with woven mosquito nets, wicker chairs, as well as family swords, porcelain, household items and a lot more.

Traditional art in Omodos

In ancient times, practically every house in Odomos had storage rooms where grapes were processed. A linos, a medieval press used to make wine, has been preserved in the village.

The locals still make home-made wine, though these days most of them grow grapes for the major wineries (there are 4 near the village). The villagers are incredibly proud of their wine made from local grapes and it is often bought up by tourists as a souvenir. You can buy wine in the winery shops; you'll also find it sold in taverns and by the locals themselves.

Beyond wine, you'll also come across interesting non-alcoholic grape-based products for sale. For example, Palouze — grape must jelly, Soutzoukkos — strings of almonds dipped in grape must syrup, and Portos — grape pulp with boiled grape must, wheat, and other ingredients.

Arkatena bread rolls — crispy rolls, famous across the island, were first made in the village of Omodos. The secret ingredient in these rolls is spiced chickpea extract, which is used instead of yeast in the baking process. The recipe was brought to the village from Smyrna (now Izmir), by a girl named Hadjistasou, who married a Cypriot, settled in Omodos, and taught the local women to bake Arkatena with ground chickpeas and ginger. There are currently five special ovens in Odomos that are used to bake these unusual goods.

What's more, the village is famous for its lace — pipiles (which translates as embroidery). Delicate lace made by local artists are very popular with tourists. It is believed that the embroidery technique (called “knot with a needle” or “knot to knot”) came to Cyprus from Byzantium.

Special types of stitches are used to create a range of patterns. The lace can come in all shapes and sizes and are used to decorate furniture, beds and clothing.

The village is also home to the Centre for the Preservation of Lacework, which houses over a hundred pieces of this amazing art.

You'll also find workshops that produce stained glass and glassware, copper engravings, silverware and icons on the streets of Omodos.

Places to grab a bite to eat

There are several cafes and restaurants in the mountain village of Omodos where you can grab a snack while on a walk. More often than not, you'll also have the chance to soak up the local charm and enjoy live music performed by villagers playing traditional instruments.

The Katoi restaurant serves Mediterranean and Greek dishes. Its menu offers a impressive meat meze (it's best to order one portion for two people) and other traditional Cyprios dishes. It also has a good stock of local wine, which is popular with tourists.

The visitors to the restaurant praise its friendly and homely atmosphere. You'll often meet the owner and share a few words with him and the waiters are happy to help you choose out a dish that'll suit your tastes despite the fact that they only speak Greek.

The Themelio tavern is famous for its signature frappe — a milky coffee with ice, commonly found in Greece and Cyprus. You can also try their fig, apricot or apple pies that are made without milk and sugar, and other traditional Greek and Mediterranean dishes.

The H Kamara restaurant is on the village's main street. Its menu offers seafood, moussaka, kleftiko, lasagne, grilled meats, kebabs, meze and much more. They also have several types of local wine. The staff speaks English. The chef can prepare a dish that is not on the menu or make any necessary changes to the recipe at your request.

The restaurant at the Omodhos hotel is on the outskirts of the village, a few minutes' walk from the central streets. You can order several types of soups, moussaka, kleftiko, stifado, a special mixed meze called Omodos, grilled chicken, kebabs, steaks and seafood.

In total, there are 14 restaurants, cafes and taverns in the village that serve breakfast, local cuisine, wine and coffee.

You can find a photo essay about Omodos here.