Cyprus, Lythrangomi, Church of the Panagia Kanakaria, apse mosaic

Era 6AD
Location Boltaşlı
Placement On the Karpass Peninsula east of Leonarisso

At Lythrankomi in North Cyprus, there is a smallish and relatively unspectacular Byzantine church. It has been dated to the late fifth century; the apse mosaic it used to contain is said to be perhaps ten to twenty years later. The apse held an image of the Mother of God and Child in a mandorla on a gold background, flanked by angels and with a border of apostles in roundels. This particular mosaic (if correctly dated) is the earliest remaining Byzantine mosaic image of the Mother of God with the Christ-child. A picture of Mary with her Child was an image of the Incarnation of Christ, the tangible birth of God to a human mother, and the visibility of Christ as man and God, an issue important throughout the Christian Roman world. At Lythrankomi, therefore, the mandorla, the sign of divine glory, that encloses Mary and her Child, evokes divinity and the depiction of the Lythrankomi Mother of God consequently has been associated, as with her image at S Maria Maggiore in Rome, with the decrees of the Church Council of Ephesos (431) establishing the role of Mary as Theotokos.


Almost nothing of this is left in the church now. If you want to see what remains, then you need to go to the Archbishop Makarios Museum in Nicosia, where fragments are on display. The Kanakaria apse mosaics were one of the big stories of the art market in the 1980s. To simplify dramatically, they were clearly hacked from the church at some point after the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974 and before the report of their absence in 1979. In 1980, the Director of Antiquities of Cyprus announced their theft. In 1988, Christ, an archangel and the apostles James and Matthew were bought by an American art dealer. In 1989, the dealer was found guilty of a lack of ‘due diligence’ in establishing the mosaics’s provenance and they were returned to the Republic of Cyprus. Not all of the Kanakaria mosaic has resurfaced. The head of Thomas turned up in 1997. In 2018, the head of St Andrew was retuned with much rejoicing:

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