Kyrenia, Bellapais Abbey
ca. early 13th century
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The Premonstratensian abbey church was built in the early 13th century as a Latin church, but after the Lusignan period, served Orthodox Christians.1In 1309, Balian of Ibelin, the "defender of Jerusalem," was buried in the church.2
The church is a two-bayed basilica with side aisles, and measures 37 meters in length and 14 meters in width. The eastern bay forms a crossing flanked by shallow transept bays that are the width of the aisles. A square chevet the width of the nave extends east of the crossing. On the west end is a porch, which has three bays that are not aligned with the aisles on the interior. The porch is supported by a one-story wall on the west with massive buttresses, perhaps anticipating some mass above, such as a tower that was never built. In addition to the western portal, side doors allow entry to the transept from the north and the south. The north wall abuts the two-story wall of the main cloister. The south wall has two modest buttresses on the exterior.
Enlart noted that, while the church had an austere quality corresponding to Burgundian Cistercian architecture, the plan seemed to be more akin to Byzantine layouts.1 Philippe Plagnieux and Thierry Soulard likened the proportions of the non-protruding transept to churches in the Levant, for example, the abbey church of St. Anne in Jerusalem.2
The two-story elevation features a shallow clerestory with narrow windows with pointed profiles. The quadripartite rib vaulting is made of finely cut ashlar, which springs from a height of 6 meters, rising to an apex at 10.9 meters and spanning 6.6 meters. The arches of the arcade spring from brackets off the circular piers, while the transverse arches spring from the piers' crocket capitals. The transept niches are covered by barrel vaults, which spring from 6.1 meters and reach an apex at 9.7 meters.
Over the western portal, one can make out a monolithic block, the span of which is supported partially by pilasters coming in from the door frame rather than the corbels. The tympanum blocks rest directly above, with no gap. The lintel block appears to show cracking through the plaster on its surface. The interior of the opening has an arch supporting most of the thickness of the wall. A similar arrangement can be found in the north door.
With only three bays plus side aisles, the church is more centralized than the more typically four-bayed, single vessel naves in Cyprus. Perhaps an even greater anti-seismic property is the extremely low profile of the elevation. In the abbey church at Bellapais, we see an extreme degree of structural caution in that the springpoints of the transverse arches are close to the floor, due to the fact that the aisle arcade arches spring almost from the ground. The windows in the clerestory are quite small compared to their wall sections.