Where in the bible?
“Barnabas and Saul, sent on their way by the Holy Spirit, went down to Seleucia and sailed from there to Cyprus. When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the Jewish synagogues. John was with them as their helper.”
Beachgoing vacationers and religious pilgrims are seldom drawn to the same destinations. But few places in the world compare to Cyprus.
With crystal clear waters, ancient ruins and New Testament history, Cyprus combines paradisal beauty with fascinating religious heritage. Officially named the Republic of Cyprus, the independent Mediterranean island is peppered with archaeological marvels, ornate churches and UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Cyprus, less than 300 miles off the coast of Israel, played an integral role in the spread of early Christianity. The island’s people became some of the first converts because of the arrival of the apostle Paul and Barnabas in A.D. 45.
According to the biblical story of the Cyprus trip, Paul miraculously struck a local sorcerer blind to stop him from discrediting Christianity. Eventually, Barnabas became the first archbishop in Cyprus. Opponents who thought Barnabas wielded too much power stoned him to death on the island in A.D. 57.
Church groups can follow in the footsteps of Paul and Barnabas, as well as visit myriad churches, monasteries and other religious sites in Cyprus. The Cyprus Museum in Nicosia reveals the broader history of the island and its city kingdoms that later united to form the Republic of Cyprus.
In between stops focused on the spiritual, faith-based groups can enjoy the welcoming island’s Greek-influenced cuisine and charming towns. A mild climate, stunning beaches and forested mountains make the island’s scenery equally inspirational.
Top Attractions for Church Groups:
- Paphos — One the towns visited by Paul, Paphos was the Roman capital of Cyprus. Due to its archaeological significance, the entire city was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Groups can explore the preserved ancient city; the Pillar of St. Paul, where the apostle was flogged; and the Tomb of the Kings, where Christians took refuge during early persecutions.
- Salamis — Once one of the main ports in the Mediterranean Sea, Salamis was where Paul and Barnabas first landed in Cyprus. According to tradition, Salamis was also the city where Barnabas was martyred. Groups can visit Salamis’ well-preserved Roman ruins and two Byzantine churches. [Editor’s note: Salamis is in Northern Cyprus, a portion of the island occupied by Turkey. Since the occupation is considered illegal by the Republic of Cyprus and other international organizations, visitors to Salamis should research current travel restrictions to Northern Cyprus before planning visits there.]
- Panagia Angeloktistis — Located in Kiti, the Church of Panagia Angeloktistis preserves rare sixth-century mosaics of Mary and Jesus. The mosaics sit inside the 11th-century Byzantine church, whose name means “built by angels.”
- Church of St. Lazarus — The Church of St. Lazarus, or Agios Lazaros, honors the miracle of Jesus bringing Lazarus back from the dead. Scholars believe that Lazarus later fled to Cyprus to escape persecution. The ninth-century Byzantine church stands on the spot of his reputed second tomb.
- Kykkos Monastery — High in the Troodos Mountains sits one of the most famous sites in Cyprus. A renovation of the 11th-century Kykkos Monastery returned the site to its original Byzantine glory with heavily ornamented Greek Orthodox murals and the portrait of Mary believed to have been painted by St. Luke.
Must-Do: Relax on Nissi Beach for turquoise waters, white sand and water sports.
Must-Taste: Savor the island’s famous halloumi cheese, which is coveted by chefs around the globe. The cheese accompanies a variety of Cyprus dishes, from lamb roast to halloumi fries.
Bring It Home: Buy olive oil, a staple produced on the island since the 12th century. Cyprus’ soil, high in lime content, is said to be the secret to the olive oil’s superior flavor.
Photo Op: See why Cyprus was chosen as the birthplace of Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love and beauty, at Petra tou Romiou. According to legend, the goddess originally rose from the sea at this picturesque coastal rock formation.