Lying in the forests southeast of the village of Lazanias, and commanding wonderful views of the surrounding mountains, Panagia tou Machaira Monastery, like Kykkos, is very well maintained and exudes a sense of prosperous decorum. The story of its foundation follows the usual formula – a miraculous icon, one of seventy painted by the Apostle Luke, was brought here from Asia Minor by an unknown ascetic during the iconoclastic period. Hidden in a cave, it was discovered (probably by revealing itself with a divine glow) by two hermits – Neophytos and Ignatios – who’d arrived in the area from Palestine. To reach it, they needed to hack away the undergrowth, and a divine hand kindly provided the sword or “machairi”. Ignatios founded the church in 1172 AD, which later expanded into a monastery. Fire destroyed the buildings in 1530 and 1892, but the icon, encased in silver, survived.
The monastery also played a role in the fight for Cypriot independence. EOKA’s second-in-command, Gregoris Afxentiou, hid here, disguised as a monk, and eventually met a martyr’s death at the hands of the British – the cave in which he was trapped lies about 1km below the monastery, and is marked with a flag and commemorative tablet. There’s a small museum dedicated to his short life (it’s to the right of the ramp that leads down to the monastery terrace from the road), and on the terrace itself stands a gigantic statue of the man and the bird (an eagle) from which he derived his nom de guerre. Dashing and heroic though Afxentiou certainly was, he is perhaps ill-served by the huge and flamboyant statue erected in his honour on the monastery terrace.