UBC Faculty Research and Publications

Kourion Episcopal Basilica and Urban Precinct Randall, Ian


Located in the center of the Late Roman city of Kourion, the bascilical precinct occupied a space just off of the old Roman forum. The basilica itself measured 39.95m by 22.88m and was situated above an older, civic building of the Roman basilical type. This older building furnished much of the limestone and marble building material, and spolia is much in evidence. Three aisled, but with only a single apse, the church is unusual amongst the early basilicas of Cyprus, which usually had three apses; this was likely due to the exigencies of making use of the footprint of the earlier building. The basilica and its attendant buildings were likely constructed under the tenure of Bishop Zeno, who attended the Council of Ephesus in 431, and served to replace the earlier, as yet undiscovered, basilica which was almost certainly destroyed in the major earthquake of 365 (the exact date of this earthquake is disputed). Replete with opus sectile and mosaic flooring (in addition to gypsum slabs), marble champleve revetment, carved marble column bases, and expertly carved marble ecclesiastical furniture, such as the ambo, the Kourion basilica must have been opulent indeed. Large quantities of mother-of-pearl tesserae point to an ornamental, as opposed to figural, wall decoration in addition to the floor mosaics. Small gold tesserae found near the apse point to the possible inclusion of a mosaic of the Theotokos at some point in the 6th c. To either side of the sanctuary stood two catechumena, which connected to the spacious narthex. These were meant to hold the unbaptized converts (the Roman Empire began converting en mass to Christianity in the 4th c.). To the Northwest and North of the basilica, respectively, lie an atrium and baptistry. Roughly 20m on a side, the paved atrium, with a central hexagonal cistern, featured small marble columns and was surrounded by a series of rooms on all but its East side (from which the baptistry was accessed). These rooms extended down to the West of the basilica and joined with a heavily mosaiced diakonikon and a small courtyard with a fountain. It is thought these formed the episkopeion, and many of the rooms also feature mosaic and marble decoration. These rooms, on two stories, would have accommodated the clergy. In the 6th century a second story was added to those rooms on the West end, extending above the diakonikon. A mosaic inscription in the floor of the diakonikon features a portion of a psalm relating to the leaving of gifts. In 1959 excavators uncovered the remains of a wall mosaic in the diakonikon that seems to feature the Theotokos and child, and an unidentified archangel. Coin evidence points to a date somewhere in the early 7th c. The three aisled baptistry, again with one apse, featured a cruciform font set into the South wall, and lavish mosaic decoration. Again, as with much of the precinct, renovation appears to have taken place in the early 7th c. In the mid-7th c. Kourion was subject to two Umayyad raids, and small traces of the cleanup have been found in the episcopal precinct, as well as a number of Arab and Arab-Byzantine coins that may date to the period of the Condominium. The end of the Kourion Episcopal Basilica can be attributed to a catastrophic earthquake at some point late in the 7th c. The southwestern portion of the narthex collapsed, and a diagonal wall was inserted to try and support the remaining superstructure. There are additional signs of violent seismic action in the structural remains. Coins at the site speak to continued activity into the 8th c., but at this point the basilica was dismantled and elements have been found at the nearby, and still occupied, village of Episkopi.

Item Citations and Data


Attribution 4.0 International