Works will start soon to restore the wall of the medieval church of Ayios Iakovos in the Nicosia buffer zone that collapsed last week after calls to reinforce the structure went unheeded, Greek Cypriot head of the Technical Committee for Cultural Heritage Takis Hadjidemetriou said on Tuesday.
Torrential rains over the past weeks had caused the collapse of the bell tower and part of the wall of the derelict 10th century church in a hard to reach area which is under the control of the Turkish military.
The church, according to historian Dr Nasa Patapiou was an episcopal seat of the Maronites during the 16th century. According to written testimonies, the church was a Maronite cathedral as early as the 15th century.
Hadjidemetriou announced the collapse on Facebook last Saturday, arguing that had the committee been given permission when it asked to work on supporting the structure, the damage may have been avoided.
He told the Cyprus Mail on Tuesday that following the collapse last week of the church’s dome, bell tower and southern wall, crews from the Nicosia Master Plan team would start works within the coming days to restore the wall.
“It seems that, after this situation, they (the Turkish military) have given permission,” he said.
He said that Ayios Iakovos church, along with that of the nearby Ayios Georgios are included in the programme of the technical committee and they have been waiting for the green light for the reinforcement works to begin.
The collapse of a large part of the Ayios Iakovos church was “a huge blow”, he said. “It is a very important monument. We have some hope that it can be restored.”
He said last week that the committee was not allowed to start reinforcement works on the two churches in the past on the excuse that demining was needed in the area.
Hadjidemetriou said that the two leaders ought to address the issue as it falls within the sphere of the Cyprus problem.
“There is also the church of Ayios Georgios. We must act before that one collapses too,” he said.
The Centre of Cultural Heritage (CCH), a private research centre, also made an urgent plea on Tuesday for the rescue of the church, which, it said, is an important monument for the history of Nicosia.
The church of Saint James the Persian (Ayios Iakovos), it said, is in fact a 10th century monument with more recent additions and interventions.
This important church, it said in an announcement, is the earliest surviving from the era before the settlement of the Crusaders in Cyprus and it is the earliest Byzantine church of the Middle Byzantine Period still surviving in Nicosia, even predating the initial part of the Chrysaliniotissa church.
It said that the icon of St James the Persian – “a rare relic of Cyprus’ icon painting heritage that survived in our capital since the 10th century” – was restored and exhibited at the Byzantine Museum of Nicosia, following efforts of the Centre of Cultural Heritage in 1999 and 2000, together with the late Constantinos Leventis.
It said the church may have “rare segments of murals dating even back to the 10th, 11th or 12th centuries” preserved under the different layers in its interior that could better document the age of the monument.
Now, it said, “it is very urgent to immediately cover the monument with a protective shelter, as it is raining every day, protect it from looters, immediately record the monument and all the pieces that collapsed, and carefully examine the collapsed pieces to see whether they bear any segments of murals.”
Further rains may destroy any surviving murals or other evidence, it said.
The church, according to Patapiou, was property of dragoman Hadjigeorgakis Kornesios during the end of the 18th and beginning of the 19th centuries and operated as an orphanage at the beginning of the 20th century.
Last November, following a conference in Nicosia to mark the 5th Anniversary Conference of the 7 Most Endangered programme, Europa Nostra appealed to the two leaders “to give the political impetus to the urgently needed reinforcement” of two churches located in the buffer zone, of Ayios Georgios and Ayios Iakovos.
“The condition of these important historic monuments is particularly alarming and it is necessary to start the rescue works without any further delay to avoid any irreparable loss,” the organisation said.
In 2013, Europa Nostra identified the buffer zone of Nicosia as one the most endangered heritage sites in Europe because of its symbolic and historical significance but also for its authenticity and the cultural, social and economic potential it represents.