In the northern reaches of Greek Cyprus, a stone’s throw from the UN-imposed “Green Line,” separating Greek Cyprus from Turkish Cyprus, there is a village called Nikitari. About three kilometers south of Nikitari, the intrepid traveler – who has braved mountainous terrain, narrow roads, and a steering wheel on the wrong side of the car – will find the Church of Panagia Phorviotissa. And the traveler will be rewarded for his perils.
The church is also called Panagia tis Asinou, which derives from the name of the ancient village founded nearby by settlers from Asine, a city in Argolis named in Homer as among the possessions of the formidable Diomedes. Somewhere over the years, Asine morphed into Asinou.
This church belonged to a monastery since fallen into disuse and then complete ruin: the monastery “of the Phorvia [or Phorbia],” which is probably derived either from a wild plant called “ephorbium” or from “phorbe,” or pasture. Many appellations of Mary in Cyprus derive from the natural world. If Panagia Phorviotissa tis Asinou is too much of a mouthful for you, try Our Lady of the Pasture. Just don’t expect to find that on Google Maps.
Nowadays, Panagia Phorviotissa belongs to the select group of “Painted Churches” protected as UNESCO World Heritage Sites, although that group falls woefully short of covering the whole set of Byzantine-Cypriot churches.
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