Church of Agios Lazaros - History and Facts | History Hit

Church of Agios Lazaros

Larnaca, Cyprus, Cyprus

The Church of Agios Lazaros was built in the tenth century AD to house the believed tomb of Saint Lazarus.

Peta Stamper

31 May 2021
Image Credit: imageBROKER / Alamy Stock Photo

About Church of Agios Lazaros

The Church of Agios Lazaros, also known as Church of Ayios Lazaros, is a Byzantine church in Larnaca built in the late 9th or early 10th century AD over the believed tomb of Saint Lazarus. Saint Lazarus was a figure from the New Testament, said to have been resurrected by Jesus and then fled to Cyprus where he was ordained as a Bishop.

Visitors can enter the crypt of the Church of Agios Lazaros to see his reputed tomb as well as those of other buried there.

Used as a mosque during the Ottoman occupation of Cyprus, the Church of Agios Lazaros was then reverted to a church. It has suffered damage over the years, including a devastating fire, but has been restored on different occasions.

Church of Agios Lazaros history

The place of Lazarus’ tomb was believed to have been lost under the Arab rule of the island from 649 AD, not found until 890 when the tomb inscribed with ‘Lazarus, four days dead, friend of Christ’ was discovered. The church was built as a long building with 3 aisles and bulky pillars and arches inside.

Then Byzantine emperor, Leo VI, had the holy remains moved to Constantinople in 898, a date that has since been commemorated by the Orthodox Church every year on 17 October. The relics were looted during the Fourth Crusade in the early 13th century, taken back to Marseille and lost.

It was during this period under Frankish and Venetian rule that the church became Roman Catholic, although during the Ottoman rule from 1571 AD, the church was turned into a mosque – its original domes and bell tower already destroyed.

However, because of the church’s Christian cemetery it was returned to the Catholics and remained an Orthodox church for the next 200 years. The 18th century saw the church gain gold-plated Baroque style iconography and some incredible wood-carved furniture.

Sadly, a fire in 1970 damaged most of the interior and during restoration works, human remains were discovered in a marble sarcophagus under the altar – believed to be the remains of the saint.

Church of Agios Lazaros today

Today, entry to this millennia-old church is free and accessible by entrance ramp all year round. Visitors can download an audio guide or otherwise wander the church taking in the multiple histories through the patchwork of architectural styles and features.

Afterwards, head over to a Byzantine Museum which offers exhibitions exploring the church’s long history. Otherwise, return in the evening to admire the ornate bell tower and tiled side chapels, lit up from below by soft orange lights.

Getting to the Church of Agios Lazaros

For those driving, the church is situated just off the B4 and there is a nearby car parking at Ayiou Lazarou, a minute walk away. The church is within walking distance of the Castle Square and promenade, and the Larnaca bus service stops just outside the church.

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