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The Holy Monastery of Saint Nicholas of the Cats (Akrotiri)

The monastery of Saint Nicholas of the Cats is located at the south west of the Limassol salt lake, the largest lake of Cyprus. It’s one of the oldest monasteries in Cyprus and according to the tradition it was founded by Saint Helen, mother of Constantine the Great in the 4th century. It is believed that the monastery was a shelter for fugitive monks, who were chased away during the Iconoclastic era.

Recent excavations support the belief that the area was a dock of great importance for the fleet of the Byzantine Empire. The role of the area in the imperial policy, for hosting refugees and holy heirlooms, could possibly be altered and solely identified with the Monastery itself. Also, part of the Monastery are probably the ruins of the chapel of Saint Varas, on the salt lake's shore, on the northern side of the the Monastery.

The monastery is dated back in the 14th century and it was first inhabited by monks. It was destroyed by a great earthquake in the 16th century, but then reconstructed and functioned until 1570 when the Ottoman Empire conquered the island. The monastery was reconstructed again in the 18th century but abandoned for a century after that. In 1983, it became a convent once again, which today houses only few nuns who are dedicated to taking care of the cats and painting icons.

The legend has it that St Helen founded the monastery and not only she left a piece of the Holy Wood there, but she also brought hundreds of cats in order to extinguish all the poisonous snakes which gathered around the island, because of a terrible drought. Many of the residents left their homes and moved away of the island. They came back after the snakes left. Growing cats was soon spread as a practice and it was followed by most of the monasteries in Cyprus.

Another legend says that Constantine the Great had asked Governor Kalokeros to help extinguish the snakes of the area. He brought 1000 cats and made the monks take care of at least 100 cats each day, and feed them twice a day in order to be protected from the snake’s poison. During the Ottoman Invasion, the Monastery of Saint Nicholas of Cats was completely destroyed and its residing monks slaughtered or taken into captivity. The cats were left with no food, wandering around the island, which explains the large number of cats currently living in Cyprus.

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