A Visit to the Monastery of Saint Nicolas of the Cats

Go to the Akrotiri peninsula, about an hour’s drive from Pafos, and you can visit a monastery with an intriguing history.

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Go to the Akrotiri peninsula, about an hour’s drive from Pafos, and you can visit a monastery with an intriguing history. The monastery was founded in 327 CE by the Byzantine Governor of Cyprus, Calokairos, at the insistence of Saint Helen, mother of Constantine the Great. Returning from a trip to the Holy Land, Helen stopped at the peninsula, which had been nearly abandoned during a seventeen-year drought. The drought was accompanied by a plague of venomous snakes that made the area too dangerous to pass through. Helen sought a solution from the governor. In establishing the monastery, Calokairos collected a thousand cats from across Cyprus and charged the monks with their care. The cats eventually subdued the snake population and made the area inhabitable again. To this day, a large group of cats makes its home in the monastery. The core structure dates to the thirteenth century, though it suffered damage from an earthquake in the fifteenth century, looting in the sixteenth century, and disuse over hundreds of years. The Department of Antiquities restored the complex in 1960. Since 1983, the Monastery of Saint Nicolas of the Cats has served as a convent. A small group of nuns resides there, caring for the cats, painting icons, and living a life of devotion. Visit and you will surely be greeted by the monastery’s feline denizens. You can also admire the monastery’s beautiful architecture. A selection of icons, publications, fruit preserves, and honey is offered for sale; your purchase supports the convent and the care of the cats.