Aimery de Lusignan established a Latin church hierarchy on Cyprus and throughout their 300-year rule the Lusignans were generous patrons of the Latin Church. One of the most magnificent and inspiring remnants of that symbiotic relationship are the ruins of the "Abbey of Beautiful Peace" -- the Abbaye de la Belle Paix or Bellapais. Below is a short history and some photos.
The Abbey of Bellapais is located on the shoulder of a mountain just six miles (10 km) east of the port of Kyrenia. Although no archaeological evidence has been found, based on earlier designations of the location historians presume an Orthodox church or bishop's residence once sat on this site, which has natural springs.
Augustinian monks from the Holy Sepulcher, fleeing the Kingdom of Jerusalem after the disaster at Hattin, were the first to found a monastery on the location of the Abbey of Bellapais. The construction of this first abbey commenced almost immediately after a papal bull of December 1196 formally inaugurated a Latin diocesan establishment on Cyprus. Aimery de Lusignan was personally the abbey's patron, and construction of the first monastery is dated from 1198-1205. Unfortunately, little of this original building have survived to the present, although the under croft of the refectory likely dates from this period.
Shortly after Aimery's death, the abbey requested permission to follow the Premonstratensian rule, a stricter form of the Augustinian order, and were granted permission by the Archbishop of Nicosia. Because of the white habits of the Premonstratensian canons, the Abbey was also known colloquially as the White Abbey. (Although the white stone against the green vegetation would be another explanation of the name....)
Royal patronage of the abbey continued under Aimery's successors. The Abbots of Bellais were even granted the right to wear golden spurs and a sword when outside the abbey grounds, rights usually reserved for knights. More important, however, royal patronage probably financed, directly or indirectly, a massive building programs undertaken over the next two centuries.
In the reign of Hugh III (1267 - 1284), the church was built.
But the more impressive architecture dates from a more massive re-building program during the first half of the next century. This is when the cloisters were "modernized," and the chapter house, dormitory, and refectory that we see today were built.
The cloisters of Bellapais Abbey
By the 16th century, however, the Abbey was already in decay -- not just physically but morally as well. By then the Lusignan dynasty had fallen and been replaced by Venetian administration. Responding to complaints, the Venetian state investigated conditions at the abbey and reported that not only were the buildings so neglected that they were in a ruinous state but that the canons had abandoned their vows of chastity and lived with women -- allegedly in at least one case with no less than three women.
Venetian plans to expel the corrupt "white monks" and replace them with Franciscans were over taken by events. In 1570 the island fell to the Turks and the monks were driven from the island. Although the church was probably converted into an Orthodox church, the other buildings of the abbey were used as a quarry for the construction or as stalls and barns for livestock.
Only after the British assumed administration of the island in 1878 did the decay stop. The refectory was temporarily used as a military hospital and later as a school. In the early 20th century, the process of preserving and respecting the original buildings finally began.
Today Bellapais is a museum.
The Last Crusader Kingdom was Cyprus. Follow me to Cyprus as the Lusignans established their rule there with the help of the Ibelins.