This is such a beautiful place, it’s not just somewhere you see, it’s somewhere you actually feel. There is a unique tranquility to the whole area, a small church sits just outside the monastery itself, then there is the actual monastery itself. within the grounds there is a wonderful view of the entire valley. There is an enormous statue of Grigoris Afxentiou, who died there in March 1957.
Machairas Monastery (Greek: Μαχαιράς) is a historic monastery dedicated to the Virgin Mary located about 40 km from the capital of Cyprus, Nicosia. It lies at an altitude of about 900 m and was founded at the end of the 12th century close to the current village of Lazanias.
Legend has it that an unknown hermit smuggled one of the 70 icons said to have been painted by Luke the Apostle secretly from Asia Minor to Cyprus. This icon of the Virgin Mary remained in its hiding place until the arrival of two other hermits from Palestine in 1145: Neophytos and Ignatius who stumbled across the icon in a cave. To reach it, they had to machete their way into the cave through the thick plant growth, so the icon assumed the name ‘Machairotissa’ in reference to the Greek word for knife μαχαίρι (Makhaira). The whole monastery founded on this site takes its name from this icon.
During October, 1955, on the day after Field Marshal Harding’s arrival on Cyprus Grigoris Afxentiou raided Lefkoniko Police Station, in broad daylight, and seized the entire armoury that was stored there. Although the raid was planned well in advance it clearly appeared as a challenge to the Field Marshal’s authority who thereafter pursued Afxentiou zealously.
In December, 1955, Afxentiou was relocated on orders of General Grivas to the Troodos mountain range and the General’s hideout at Spilia, which led to Afxentiou’s involvement in the Battle of Spilia.
On March 3, 1957, after an informant had betrayed his location, the British forces surrounded Afxentiou outside his secret hideout near the Machairas Monastery. At the time, inside the hideout were Afxentiou and four fellow guerrilla fighters. Realising he was outnumbered, Afxentiou ordered his comrades to surrender but stayed behind to fight to the death.
The British asked Afxentiou to surrender his arms but he replied “Molon labe” (trans. “come and take them”) quoting King Leonidas of Sparta at Thermopylae. Unable to drive him out and after sustaining casualties, the British forces resorted to pouring petrol into his hideout and lighting it, burning him alive. In fear of a popular uprising, the British buried his scorched body at the Imprisoned Graves, in the yard of the Central Jail of Lefkosia, where he lies today.
The cave where Grigoris Afxentiou was burned to death is a few hundred yards away from Machairas Monastery, there are always lots of wreaths and little mementos left by people who still show their respect for this man.
The drive to Machairas is not to long, if you are driving from Nicosia, it’s off the road to the Troodos mountains, if you are driving from Larnaca, the easiest route if via Lefkara where it is signposted.