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The Twin Churches

Famagusta, North Cyprus

The twin churches, Famagusta, North Cyprus
The Twin Churches

A couple of hundred yards from the Cafer Pasha bath you will find the twin churches. Built side by side, their official names are the Templars church of St John, and the Hospitallers church of St John. The smaller of the two, on the left dates to the early 13th century and belonged to the Templars. The one on the right dates to the tail end of the 13th century.

The Knights Templar, or to give them their full name The poor fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon, was an association of crusading knights which had been organised to protect European pilgrims on their way to the Holy Land. The organisation existed for two centuries, and at one time owned the island of Cyprus.

Formed around 1119, the order grew rapidly in membership and power. In response to the constant robbing of pilgrims visiting the Holy Places, they devised a system of letters of credit, which laid the foundation of the modern banking system. A mixture of gifts and shrewd business dealings ensured that the order rapidly became extremely wealthy.

Coats of arms above the dor of the Hospitallers church, Famagusta, North Cyprus
Hospitallers' coats of Arms

The Templers' reason for existence, however, was closely tied to the crusades, and after the fall of the Holy Land, support gradually faded. After the fall of Acre in 1191, Richard the Lionheart, who had conquered the island on his way to the Crusades, sold Cyprus to the Templars. Their ownership, however, only lasted a year.

In 1307, King Philip IV of France, who was deeply in debt to the Templars, pressurised the Pope to arrest the Templars on trumped up charges of heresy, and size their assets. In 1314, the order was dissolved, and their leaders burnt at the stake.

The Knights Hospitaller (The Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of St John of Jerusalem) was a Christian organisation founded in Jerusalem in 1080, to provide care for the poor, sick or injured pilgrims to the Holy Land. After the first Crusade it became a military order, charged with the care and defence of the Holy Land. They soon, along with the Templars, became the most powerful Christian groups in the area.

The rose window and flagstaff holders at the Templars church Famagusta, North Cyprus
Rose Window and Flagstaff Holders

After the fall of Acre in 1291, the knights sought refuge in Cyprus, getting themselves involved in Cypriot politics. On the dissolution of the Templars, their Cypriot properties were taken over by the Hospitallers. Hence the twin churches.

One of the reasons we know that the Hospitallers took over the Templars' church can be seen here. If you look between the two churches, you can see a later addition. A passage has been built connecting the churches.

Above the doorway of the Templars, you can see a small rose window, and higher up are 3 flagstaff holders. Above the other door, the coats of arms of the Hospitallers are still visible. (There is some argument, that these coats of arms are not of the Hospitallers at all, and this miss-identification has caused the church to be attributed to the Hospitallers in error.) The belfry of this church is a much later addition, dating to the 16th century.

The churches have recently been restored, and are now occasionally used for exhibitions.

See the location on Google maps.

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