Based on Historical and Archaeological Evidence and the Local Tradition (Courtesy of Father Panayiotis Papageorgiou, Phd)
Agia Napa is mentioned for the first time by Leontios Mahaeras (a Cypriot choreographer) in 1366 A.D. and a second time by the same in 1373 in his account of the shipwreck of five Venetian ships loaded with booty, which the Venetians had stolen during the looting of Cyprus. The next mention of Agia Napa is encountered in Venetian documents and maps of the 16th century. Due to the lack of sufficient historical evidence, this study is based mostly on archaeological findings and the local tradition.
The monastery and the village took their name from the ancient Greek word "Nape", which means "wooded valley". This term is used by Homer in the Illiad, by Pindar in his Pythian poems, and later by the Christian Hymnographers.
It seems that in the ancient times, this Southeast coast of Cyprus was covered by greenery. In the location where the monastery and the village exist today, there existed a thickly wooded valley with natural springs. During the pre-Christian times, in the southwest end of the valley there was a Greek city called Throni which boasted a temple of Aphrodite. This city was destroyed at some point (probably by an earthquake). Some of the ruins of this city can still be found by the rocky coast where excavations were carried out during recent years.
During the Christian era, the valley with its thick forest and natural springs became very popular for hunters from the surrounding towns. According to local tradition, around the 11th century, a hunter with his dog were chasing a wild hare when the hare suddenly disappeared in a mysterious manner. The dog continued the chase and was led into a cave where the hare had sought refuge. The hunter following the barking of his dog discovered the entrance to the cave. After entering with some difficulty through the small entrance he found himself standing in front of an icon of the Virgin Mary which was flooded with light in a miraculous way. This icon must have been hidden in the cave by someone during the iconoclastic period, (a controversy concerning icons which shook the Byzantine Empire for about 150 years (7th to 8th centuries), with the purpose of protecting it from destruction by the iconoclasts. (This is the large icon now covered with a depiction of the original painting carved in bronze. The bronze carving was donated by a family from famagusta in 1962 after a miraculous apparition of the Virgin Mary to them).
The news of the discovery of this miraculous icon spread quickly in the surrounding villages and the cave of this remote napa was transformed into a shrine and a sacred place of pilgrimage by the Orthodox Christians of the area. The icon was named "The Icon of Agia Napa", i.e., the icon of the Saint of the wooded valley, and the shrine was called "Agia Napa". In subsequent years, a stone aqueduct was constructed in order to bring water to the sacred shrine from the springs found about two kilometers away on the hills north-east of the cave. This water is still running today from a marble fountain shaped like the head of a wild boar. The well found in the cave, which still gives a plentiful supply of fresh water (and which is offered to pilgrims as holy water from Agia Napa), leads one to consider the possibility that this natural cave might have been used at times by the monks and the local inhabitants as a refuge and hiding place during raids by pirates and other invaders who occasionally plundered the coasts of Cyprus throughout the centuries. This theory is supported by a local tradition which connects the appearance of the well with a miracle of the Panayia (the Virgin Mary): On a certain occasion, the local people had sought refuge in the cave during a pirate attack. As the days went by and the pirates would not go away, the Christians in the cave were faced with certain death from lack of water. After, however, a fervent supplication to the Virgin Mary, she appeared to them and pointed out fresh water springing from the corner where the well is found today. Since them the water has never run out.
At some point in history the cave-shrine was expanded into a church. As we can see from the original door, from the stone entrance frame and from the circular design (rosette) found over the door, the church must have been built during the 14th century. The stone-built extension of the church consists of two sections both covered with a pointed arch. The smaller of these sections seems to have been used as a Latin chapel during the 16th century. On the north wall of this section there still survives a wall-painting depicting three female saints, with very clear Italian influence in its technique, dated from around the 15th century.
The main entrance to the monastery used to be the south gate. The construction of this wing seems to have been done with great diligence but it is rather simple and without any ornamentation. It must come from an earlier period. By contrast, the two-storey building next to the north gate leading to the village square is decorated, betraying a clear influence of Venetian architecture, and must come from the 16th century. The octagonal fountain in the middle of the yard is also of the same architecture and comes from the same period.
The oldest section of the monastery is the north-eastern one and consists of the four cells whose ceilings are cross-like. These cells are equipped with private toilets with from the outside look like buttresses. At the base of the wall, under the toilets, there used to be a conduit into which water from the aqueduct was occasionally released in order to remove the filth and clean the toilets. The two southern cells of the east wing, as also those of the north wing, were built at a later time, but certainly before the two-story structure found by the north gate. During the Ottoman occupation (1571-1887) an olive-mill was installed in the eastern cell of the north wing which can still be seen there today.
According to local tradition, during the Venetian occupation, circa 1500 A.D., a wealthy young woman from a distinguished Venetian family of Famagusta came to the monastery of Agia Napa in order to flee the pressure of her family to marry a nobleman. Soon after, this wealthy woman began renovating the old buildings and erecting new ones. She is possibly the one responsible for both the two-storey building and the octagonal fountain. It is said that she is also the one who planted the old huge sycamore tree found outside the south gate of the monastery. This Venetian woman must have spent the rest of her life here, for according to the tradition, the sarcophagus found in the monastery yard next to the octagonal fountain belongs to her.
The monastery of Agia Napa flourished during the 16th century and continued to hold a position of importance up until the end of the Venetian occupation of Cyprus in 1581 A.D. Agia Napa is frequently referred to in manuscripts of this period and appears on numerous maps of Cyprus from this era. One of the forts of the south wall of the old city of Famagusta, built by the Venetian conquerors, was named Agia Napa, possibly because the road leading to Agia Napa began there.
During the Turkish (Ottoman) occupation, and shortly before 1668 A.D., the monastery of Agia Napa was still a convent. Soon after, however, it was converted to a men's monastery and continued to flourish as such for almost a hundred years until 1758 when, for reasons unknown, it ceased to be occupied by permanent monks. After this, it began to operated again in 1800 A.D. with three monks whose superior was someone by the name of "Ioannikios".
During the years of its prosperity, the monastery acquired large stretches of land and established Metochia (monastic embassies) in several places. One of these was in the village of Ormideia and another one in Prasteio. The monasteries of St. George of Hortakia, found west of the village of Sotera, and that of St. Nikandros, both came under the auspices of the monastery of Agia Napa.
According to an inscription found on the wall of the north-eastern wing of the monastery, in 1813 the auxiliary bishop of Trimithus Spiridon, assistant bishop to the Archbishop Kyprianos (who was beheaded by the Turks in 1821), renovate the monastery of Agia Napa once more. The name of this bishop is also found on two small silver icons copies of the ancient large icon of the Virgin Mary, dated 1803, where he is described as the abbot of the monastery.
The area around the monastery of Agia Napa was not inhabited until 1790 when (according to local tradition) there arrived from Thessaloniki a group of people who left their homeland fleeing an outbreak of cholera (the plaque). Finally, only two of them survived the deadly disease, a man by the name of Nicholaos Kemitzis and his son. Later the son married a Cypriot girl from a small village called Panayia which was found on the hills north of the monastery where the water of Agia Napa comes from. The young couple did not settle in Panayia because of a bitter conflict between the inhabitants of Panayia and Turkish authorities of Famagusta concerning the supply of water. Instead, they sought to establish a safer home outside the monastery thus beginning the village which was to also be named "Agia Napa" after the shrine.
After the village grew in numbers, and since the monastery was no longer active, some of its rooms began to be used for the various needs of the community and especially as classrooms for the children of the elementary school. The church of the monastery became the parish church and continued to be so until recently when the new church was finished. The old shrine-church is still used, however, for weekday services and baptisms.
The new church, built Southwest of the monastery, was completed in 1990. Its interior walls are covered with beautiful Byzantine-style icons which were painted in three stages by the iconographer Sozos Yiannoudies and his crew and were completed in August of 1994. The new church is also dedicated to the Virgin Mary and celebrates, along with the monastery, the feast of the Birth of the Mother of God (the Theotokos) on September 8.
The parish and monastery of Ayia Napa keep five small chapel in the area. These are, St. Barbara, St. George, St. Epiphanios, St. Mavra and St. Paraskevi, where services are held only on the feast of their patron saint.