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Histoire religieuse : l’Eglise de Chypre pendant la période ottomane

After the Ottoman conquest (1570), the prelates of the Church of Cyprus ―the Archbishop and the Bishops of Paphos, Kition and Kyrenia― received important privileges from the Sultan, resulting in their acquiring of significant power, both spiritual and political/economic, over their flock. However, due to heavy Catholic influence it had received during the Frankish and Venetian periods, in the first century after the Ottoman conquest the Church of Cyprus attempted in several occasions to come into contact with European rulers, most importantly the King of Spain and the Duke of Savoy, in order to expel the Ottomans and reinstall the domination of a Catholic Christian power over the island.

These contacts continued until around 1660, when the Ottoman state, in an attempt to curb the abuse of authority from the part of the governors of the island, upgraded the role of the prelates of the Church of Cyprus in local administration, allowing them an important role in the allocation and collection of taxes in the province. This development, together with their failure to procure western aid for the liberation of the island, signalled the end of the western relations of the Church of Cyprus and secured the loyalty of its prelates to the Sultan, who perceived them as high-level functionaries and appointed them to their thrones through an imperial document (berat).

An important development occurred in 1754, when the prelates of the Church of Cyprus were officially recognized by the Ottoman state as kodjabashis, that is, leaders and guardians of the Orthodox Christians, acquiring the right to represent the people of the island and to present petitions to the Sublime Porte independently from the local Ottoman governor. This new status triggered a period of increasing political and economic power for the Church of Cyprus rivalling that of the local Ottoman governor, and in fact it was perceived by many that the Archbishop was, to all intents and purposes, the real ruler of the island.

Due to its new position, the Church of Cyprus reached the zenith of its power in the second half of the 18th and the first decades of the 19th century, a period, which is also characterized by a cultural regeneration, reflected in the founding of schools, the funding of the publication of books and the creation of a new ideology, which gave prominent emphasis on education and learning.

The struggle for power between the Church of Cyprus and the local Ottoman authorities came to a head in the summer of 1821, when the Ottoman governor, using as a pretext the revolution which had just erupted in Greece, executed Archbishop Kyprianos I, together with the three Bishops ―alongside a host of other clerics and prominent men― replacing them with puppet Bishops appointed by himself, in an attempt to reassert the authority of the local administration over the Church.

The Church of Cyprus quickly recovered from this blow and was assigned a new prominent role in the Ottoman reforms, which followed the Imperial Prescript of 1839. Although it lost its dominant role in the imposition and collection of taxes, the appointment of the Archbishop and Bishops as ex officio members of the Councils created by the reforms institutionally incorporated the Church of Cyprus into the Ottoman administration. Through this development, the prelates were officially and institutionally recognized by the Ottoman authorities as the leaders of the Orthodox Christians of the island, a fact which would acquire exceptional significance in the following decades.

D 12 septembre 2012    AHarris Stavridis

CNRS Unistra Dres Gsrl

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