By Revd Canon Ian Morter
In mid-October I was fortunate to return to one of my favourite autumn haunts, the Island of Cyprus. I have visited the south of the island on a number of occasions over the last two decades and for the first time I went to see the wonderfully preserved medieval castle at Kolossi.
This amazingly strong defensive building reminds us that over the history of that eastern part of the Mediterranean, nestled close to the area of the Middle East, has been no stranger to the conflicts that we are hearing about in the daily news at the moment with the warfare in Gaza.
Kolossi Castle was a former Crusader stronghold which was strategic in the Middle Ages. Originally built in 1210 by the Frankish military when this part of Cyprus was given to King Hugh I of Cyprus, it was used by the Knights Hospitaller of Jerusalem. Then in the early 14th Century for seven years it became the residence of the Knights Templar before returning to the Knights Hospitaller.
The building we see today was re-built in the mid-fifteenth century by the Knights Hospitaller under their Commander, Louis de Magnac, whose coat-of-arms can be seen carved into the castle’s walls.
Built as a defence against marauding invaders that were interested in over running the fertile plain of the Akrotiri Peninsular with its extensive plantations of sugar cane and vine yards, a fabulous source of great trading wealth. Entering this imposing fortification from the first floor across a drawbridge defended with a machicolation above the gate, which permitted the pouring of boiling water, oil or melted tar over would be attackers. The Castle has three floors each consisting of double chambers, side by side, with amazing barrelled ceilings. The Castle at Kolossi being the property of religious knights was decorated with religious art as well as secular decoration.
Still preserved but sadly defaced is the wall-painting of Christ on the cross with his mother The Blessed Virgin Mary and the beloved disciple St John dating from the mid-fifteenth century. It presides over the dining hall of the Commander and his Knights, reminding us that the Knights Hospitaller was an order created to uphold and defend the Christian faith.
Along the coast of Cyrus are a series of castles built during the turbulent medieval times. This is a poignant reminder to us that the possession of land as a place to settle, to farm, and to do trade has been a constant driving force throughout human history. The sad conflict we are witnessing in Gaza over the last four weeks has shaken the Middle East but is nothing new. The history of land and who possess it, has caused a great deal of bloodshed not just in the recent past but has been a human trait throughout recorded history and beyond.
There is no easy solution. But the right of all, to live safely, with security and dignity is enshrined in all religious and ethical codes and must be defended, upheld and maintained. Our task at the present time is to pray for peace and justice for all who are suffering, Palestinian and Israeli and wherever there is conflict in the world.