The Church of Panagia tis Asinou is a popular tourist destination in Cyprus and a must see for those visiting the country.
The church was erected between 1099 and 1105 by Nikiphoros Ischyrios, a former magistrate who became a monk under the name Nikolaos after the death of his wife. The church is located close to the bottom of the famous Troodos Mountains, near the village of Nikitari. It is one of the 10 Byzantine churches/monuments in the Troodos Mountain area. These churches/monuments provide an overview of Byzantine paintings in Cyprus.
Appearance wise, the church is quite small. It consists of a single-aisle nave, and a narthex which was a later addition to the building. The narthex has two semi-circular apses that were influenced by Constantinople. The exterior of the church is said to have been painted in 1105, whereas, the narthex was decorated immediately after it was finished.
The interior of the church is covered entirely with wall paintings, which vary in date. The earliest wall paintings in the church date back to 1105. The paintings express the Comnenian period, which was the latest style at the time.
The earliest paintings in the church reflect the art of Constantinople, which many believe is the artist’s birthplace.
Of all the original wall paintings in the church, only the paintings in the eastern and western sections of the church and a few others under the layer of the 14th century remain. The remaining paintings include the Dormition of the Virgin Mary, the Assumption of the Apostles, and the Communion of the Apostles.
The narthex was painted after the reconstruction at the end of the 12th century. Part of the initial illustration was covered with the wall paintings done in the 14th century, like the mural of the mounted Saint George in the southern aegis of the narthex. The shield of Saint George is decorated with a crescent and a cross in a starry sky.
The oldest narthex wall painting in the church is Panagia Phorviotissa on the arch over the original church entrance. Only a few sections of the original paintings remain because the church was rebuilt after being destroyed by earthquakes. Since parts of the church had to be rebuilt, there are a few notable differences from the original construction.
Examples of some of the differences are the enlargement and support of the apse of the sanctuary and the reconstruction of the roof in 1959. The roof initially only covered the nave, but now it also covers the narthex.
Over the years, there have been numerous paintings added to the church, including portraits of some of the donors to the church. One of the most interesting is a portrait of the Virgin Mary with a Frankish donor on the semi-dome of the southern arch of the narthex. In the painting, the donor is seen wearing a long black veil, which was common with refugees that fled Syria for Cyprus after the fall of Acre in 1291.
The Church of Panagia (Our Lady) tis Asinou is considered a World Cultural Heritage site by UNESCO, it is open throughout the year, including public holidays, and admission is free.