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History of the Latin Community of Cyprus

by Sylvain Beraud

The Latins were Catholics from the West who had a brilliant history and came and settled in Cyprus. The island remained under various rulers for a long time (1191-1571). These catholic rulers installed Latin Archbishops who had supremacy over the Greek orthodox bishops and built numerous monasteries and churches not to mention the beautiful Gothic Cathedrals in Nicosia and Famagusta which later turned to Mosques.


The introduction of the Latin Church goes back to the times of King Amaury. In 1196 the then King of Cyprus asked the Pope Celestin III to establish the Catholic church in Cyprus in order to facilitate the conversion of the indigenous population who belonged to the Greek orthodox church.


The Latin Church had one archbishopric in Nicosia and three bishoprics in Famagusta, Limassol and Paphos. These sees were granted land belonging to the Greek Church. With the Latin clergy, the various monastic orders arrived in the island.


After the Synod of 1222 and the publication of the “Bulla Cypria” in 1260 which established the supremacy of the Latin church over the Greek orthodox one, the position of the latter became tragic and the morale of the Greeks remained low until 1441 when King John II married Helen Paleologue, a Byzantine Princess.


The Ottoman capture in 1571 resulted in the formal dissolution of the Latin Church of the island. The Roman Catholic clergy continued nonetheless to maintain a presence in Cyprus, albeit an extremely low-key one. A Franciscan convent dedicated to St. Lazarus was founded in Larnaca in 1593, and on buying back the church of St. Lazarus from the Turks, the Orthodox Christians allowed the Roman Catholic clergy to celebrate the divine offices there on the feasts of St. Lazarus and of St. Mary Magdalene. This fact that Roman Catholic clergy used to hold church services there until 1784 constitutes proof of the existence of a Latin clerical and lay population in Larnaca. According to G. Dandini, a Jesuit priest, the Latin Community by 1596 also had a small church in Nicosia. Two years later, in 1598, J. Kootwych referred to a Franciscan cemetery in Larnaca adjoining the church of St. Lazarus, at which European seafarers who had died in the town were buried according to the Roman rite. The Franciscans had purchased this cemetery from the Turks a few years previously.


Kootwych also gives a description of the Franciscan establishments at Larnaca that were constituent parts of the convent of St. Lazarus, stating that the friars lived in several small rooms built with the funds offered by the faithful.


The seventeenth century witnessed an important development, the re-establishment of Latin secular clergy on the island. The establishment of a Roman Catholic bishopric in Cyprus was undertaken during the early seventeenth century, when the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith (Propaganda Fidei), a missionary organization was founded in 1622 under Pope Gregory XV. This Congregation succeeded establishing a Roman Catholic bishopric in Paphos in 1629 with jurisdiction over the Latin and Maronite Churches.


A report of the ecclesiastical situation in Cyprus complied by the Franciscan G. Battista da Todi in 1647, stated that a Franciscan church dedicated to the Holy Cross had been founded in Nicosia six to eight years previously, and attached to it was a hospice with four priests. They had also a school with 13 pupils. The report alludes to a church of St. James maintained by the Capuchin friars and to a Franciscan hospice in Limassol. More Capuchin friars arrived and established houses in Paphos and Larnaca but were unable to continue their work owing to the decline of the communities of merchants that supported them. Roman Catholic missionary activity in Cyprus declined sharply following the death of G. Battista da Todi in 1666. After the death of Bishop Leonardo Paoli in 1684, no one was sent to replace him since the total Latin population of Cyprus was numbered only 250 persons.


In the eighteenth century, the visitor R. Pococke stated that the Franciscans maintained a large establishment in Larnaca and that the Capuchins still had a convent there.


In the nineteenth century, the French sisters of the Roman Catholic Order of St. Joseph of the Apparition founded a small hospital, a pharmacy and a school for girls (1844). The Capuchins left Cyprus in 1792-1793 and their churches sold. Only the Franciscan Friars of the Obedience remained in the island.


Turning to the Latin Lay population in Cyprus following its capture in 1571 by the Ottomans, one ascertains that the Latins still remaining on the island, after the conquest, were for the most part Venetians and had maintained a Consulate in Larnaca. By the end of the seventeenth century, however, the French appear to have supplanted the Venitians. A French explorer, N.D. Hurtrel visited the island in 1670 and mentioned a French consul resident at Larnaca for providing services to ships calling there from Marseilles and other French ports. The Dutch Van Bruyn, who visited Cyprus in 1683, mentioned that all the European merchant residents in Larnaca were French. So it should be noted here that is was not by any means fortuitous that the majority of the Latins resided in Larnaca because the consulates established at the port provided both employment and protection for the Latins, secular as much as clerical, resident in Cyprus.


In other cities of Cyprus, lacking the presence of European consulates, it was far more difficult for Latins to take up residence. The Dutch J. Heyman visited Cyprus at the beginning of the eighteenth century, observing that both Latins and Greeks were forbidden to enter Famagusta on horseback, something that discouraged Latins from settling there and ensured that they continued to be centred in Larnaca. The Republic of Ragusa, situated on the Dalmatian coast, also maintained a diplomatic presence during this period, and in 1738, Pococke mentioned the consulate of Ragusta in Larnaca. Ivan Garmoliezzi, a wealthy merchant, was appointed there for life. This consulate continued to play an active part in the island’s trade until 1808, when Napoleon abolished the Republic of Ragusa. At the end of the eighteenth, a Ragusan sea captain, named Antonio Roretti bought a large expanse of land to the west of Kyrenia and created the estate of Founji. The Venetians, who were the first to found a consulate in Ottoman Cyprus, continued to maintain a presence on the island down to the end of the eighteenth, when Napoleon conquered Italy and abolished the Venetian Republic. Yet many subjects of Venice continued to live in this town.


With the outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789 and Napoleon’s rise to power, Britain and France, who were at war in both Europe and the eastern Mediterranean, became increasingly in Egypt, Palestine and Cyprus. French and Italians (a second wave) began to settle in the island protected by the Capitulation Agreement signed a long time ago between France and Ottoman Empire (1569). When the British Officer Captain H. Light visited Larnaca in 1814, he noticed the existence of the Spanish and Austrian consulates. Spanish Franciscan friars began arriving during the course of the nineteenth century and their presence in conjunction with the export of Cypriot wheat to the Iberian Peninsula, perhaps explains the establishment of a Spanish consulate, in this period.


Following the decisive defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo in 1815 and the annexation of Malta to the British crown, Maltese began to settle in Cyprus to an increasing extent. According to Malcolm Laing Meason, who visited Cyprus in 1853, a fair number of Frenchmen and Italians settling in Cyprus took Cypriot wives and busied themselves with commerce or various other professions. He describes them as well-off and with money in the bank, but not wealthy, adding that they were extremely careful with their money. Most of them avoided the pursuit of agriculture and occupied themselves with money lending, usually advancing money to those who bred silkworms for the French market at a yearly rate of interest of 12.5%. Of all the Italians settling in Cyprus during this period, the landowner, Riccardo Mattei, was the most distinguished. He was appointed, be the British in 1879, as one of the four members of the Legislative Council, along with one Greek and two Turks.


The settlement of Maltese in Cyprus, however, was unsuccessful on account of the ravages of malaria, which soon reduced their number and many of them returned to Malta.


During the period of Ottoman rule, the Italians had been debarred from government posts on account of their religion because, under Ottoman Sharia law, only Muslims could enter public service. This changed when Cyprus came under British administration. According to statistics submitted to the Legislative Council in December 1928, three years after Cyprus had been proclaimed a British Crown Colony, there were 56 Roman Catholics and Maronites in government service. They formed 3% of the civil service and absorbed 4.2% of its salaries. In the plebiscite of 1960 the Latins of Cyprus like the Armenians and the Maronites voted by an overwhelming majority to join the Greek community when Cyprus became independent under the terms of a constitution, recognizing the existence of two distinct communities on the island, one Greek and the other Turkish and three Religion Groups (Latins, Maronites and Armenians).


Following the establishment of the republic of Cyprus in 1960, the Latin community along with the Armenian and Maronite communities, was recognized formally as a “Religious Group”, with the right to have a Representative in the newly founded Communal Chamber and later on to the House of Representatives, as the Cypriot parliament is called. Is should be stressed that these representatives do not represent their respective communities politically, but simply act as a link between the government and their community, promoting its claims and providing for its needs, as well as working with the government in the preservation of the community’s customs, traditions and religion. By virtue of its provision, the Latins and the other religious groups are entitled to vote twice, once to elect their communal Representatives and second time to elect members of the House of Representatives who are affiliated to the island’s various political parties as well as presidential elections. The Latins of Cyprus also have a religious leader, the General Vicar of the Latins and a representative of the Papal Nuncio who is a member of the Franciscan Order, resident in Nicosia. The Vicar General is under the Patriarch of Jerusalem and a diplomat under the Pro-Nuncio of Jerusalem. One also notes that the Latins as well as the other religious groups have their own programme on the state radio.


In 1991, there were around 290 officially registered Latins in the island who were citizens of Cyprus, but since then the Representative of the Latin community has come into contact with numerous other Latins and the number officially registered Latins has increase to 700. Furthermore, following the completion of a survey accomplished with the assistance of the island’s Roman Catholic clergy, it appears that there are 1.700-2.000 Roman Catholic citizens of Cyprus and a total Roman Catholic population of 7000 permanently resident on the island, inclusive of aliens. If the overseas workers in Cyprus, who happen to be Roman Catholic, originating mainly from the Philippines and other countries, are added to the above number, a figure of over 13.000 Roman Catholics in Cyprus is attained.


The Latin community of Cyprus has benefited from state assistance for its various schools and churches over the past ten years, including free health care for Roman Catholic clergy irrespective of nationality, the payment of the salaries of 6 Roman Catholic priests resident in Nicosia, Larnaca, Limassol and Paphos, an annual grant of Cyprus Pounds 25.000 per annum towards the needs of the Roman Catholic church in Cyprus, fully subsidized education for the children of the Latins attending Latin primary and secondary schools and a partial subsidy for the children of Latins attending private and secondary schools. Churches serving the Latin community of Cyprus are that of the Holy Cross near the Paphos Gate in Nicosia, re-founded in 1900 with a grant from Queen Maria-Christina, wife of King Alfonso XII of Spain, that of St. Catherine in Limassol founded by the Franciscans in 1872 and that of St. Mary of the Graces re-founded in Larnaca by the Franciscans in 1843 and a chapel in Kyrenia of St. Elisabeth built in 1907 and inaugurated in 1932. An additional church has recently been offered for use (not ownership) by the Greek Orthodox bishopric of Paphos. There are also Latin cemeteries in Nicosia (buffer zone) where once a year (November 2nd) the Latins are authorized to visit the deceased under the protection of the U.N. Forces. A new cemetery has been donated by the government at the outskirts of Nicosia; there are also in Larnaca and Paphos. The Franciscan friars have also chapels in Terra Santa College (Nicosia), Xeros (in Turkish occupied area – now closed), Famagusta (in Turkish occupied area – now closed). The sisters of St. Joseph de l’ Apparition have a chapel in their convent, Larnaca. As regards schools, those serving the Latins of Cyprus but which also accept pupils of other faiths are Terra Santa College in Nicosia, founded and maintained by the Franciscans and the school of St. Mary’s in Limassol, originally founded as a girl’s college by Franciscans Sisters of the Sacred Heart. Both above schools provide pre-primary, primary and secondary education. St. Mary’s school has recently become co-educational. To the above establishments can be added a Kindergarten at Kalo Chorio in the district of Paphos. Two Social centers have been created: in Nicosia of St. Joseph the Migrant and in Limassol of St. Francis. Recently 5 French sisters from the Congrégation de l’ Assomption del la Vierge Marie ed de St. Bruno, have come to help ill people of the new planned St. Michael’s Hospice at Mesa Chorio (under construction). There is also a Home for the aged men and women which belongs to the Franciscan friars helped by the Franciscan sisters of the Sacred Heart in Larnaca.


The present representative of the Latin community in parliament is Mr. Benito Mantovani. The other two former representatives were Anthony Pietroni and Felix Cirilli de Nores.


By way of conclusion it is possible to state that the Latins of Cyprus form a compact but steadily increasing community because of their mixed ethnic make-up, which enables people of differing nationalities to join the community by virtue of belonging to the Roman Catholic confession. In recent decades, intermarriage between native Cypriots and Roman Catholics from Eastern Europe such as Poles and Czechs or even with Filipinos from the Far East, has added to this national heterogeneity, and the Latins of Cyprus look set to become not only more numerous on the island, but also more diverse ethnically.


It may be argued that the ethnic diversity of the Latins and the fact that they came into existence due to the successive settlement in Cyprus of Venetians, French, Italians, Maltese, Ragusans and more recently of people from Eastern Europe and the Far East, make the Latins a community dependent on ongoing immigration from overseas and that without this, they would be absorbed or would have been absorbed in the past by the more numerous Greek element.






Beraud Sylvain:        

  • "La Culture française dans l’ espace chypriote (1192-1971)", Nicosie, Publ. Service Culturel du Ministère de l’ Education de Chypre, 1990.

  • "Latinoi, mia mikri koinotita tis Kyprou", Nicosia, Laiko Panepistimio

  • "Studia Orientalia Christiana, Collectanea, Présence des Franciscains de Terre Sainte à Chypre", Franciscans Printing Press, Cairo – Jerusalem 1981

Coureas Nicholas:

"Cyprus today", the Latins of Cyprus Spt. December 2002


Mantovani Benito:

"H Latiniki Koinotita tis Kyprou", unpublished


Nakouzes Petros G:

"To historiko tsifliki Foundji kai hidrytes tou", Nicosia 1991


Tsirpanlis Zacharias:

"Anekdota engrapha ek ton archeion tou Vatikanou (1625-1667)", Nicosia 1973, Cyprus Research Center


Cobham Claude D:

"Excerpta Cypria, Materials for a history of Cyprus", Cambridge University Press, 1908


Frazee Charles:

"Catholic and Sultans: The church and the Ottoman Empire, 1453-1923", Cambridge University Press, 1983


Gunnis Rupert:

"Historic Cyprus", Nicosia 1936


Hill George:

"A history of Cyprus", 4 vols. IV, Cambridge University Press, 1940-1952

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