Commanding wonderful views of the surrounding mountains, Machairas 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 undoubtedly was, his statue may remind British visitors of Rik Mayel’s Lord Flashheart.