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The Latin Community

The history of the Latin Community of Cyprus is one of urban populations and monastic institutions. The term "Latin" refers to Roman-Catholic Cypriots of European origin, thereby drawing a distinction to Armenian or Maronite Catholics. The Latin presence of the island goes back to the main phases of settlement during the Lusignan (1192-1489) and Venetian (1489-1572) periods. With the beginning of Frankish rule on the island, the bull of Pope Celestine III of 1196 establishes the Catholic Church as the main Church of Cyprus, which it was to remain until the Ottoman Conquest in 1571. During this hegemonic period, the Latin Church strengthened her supremacy by reducing the number of Greek-Orthodox bishoprics from 14 to the 4 it holds today (Paphos, Larnaca/Kition, Kyrenia and Nicosia).

During the Ottoman period, the Roman-Catholic Church lost her primacy over Cyprus. Monastic organizations, however, continued to function on the island and to meet the needs not only of Catholic inhabitants, but also numerous Christian Pilgrims, who traveled through Cyprus on their way to the Holy Land.

The Franciscan convent of St. Lazarus was founded in Larnaca in 1593. Being a place of equally high importance to the Orthodox Church, it proved to be a contested object – in 1784 following the Orthodox Clergy’s protests to the Ottoman authorities, the celebration of Latin service in the Church was forbidden. In such circumstances, overlaps of Orthodox and Catholic ritual spaces were not uncommon – such as an Orthodox church in Aya Napa that housed a separate Altar for performing sacraments according to Catholic rite.

Maintenance of Catholic presence and influence, however, continued to be of major concern to Catholic authorities in Western Europe. In 1629, the Congregation for the Propagation of Faith (Propaganda Fidei) founded a Roman-Catholic bishopric in Paphos with jurisdiction over Latins and Maronites.
Throughout the 18th century the Franciscans and Capuchin Friars maintained houses in Paphos and Larnaca. Towards the end of the century, the Venetians revive their longstanding connection to the island and establish a consulate in Larnaca. The harbor of Larnaca becomes a magnet for many Western European Catholics involved in trade and commerce. Italians and Maltese begin to settle in and around the city and Italian becomes an important language for the affairs of the harbor. According to traveler’s accounts from the 19th century, there are also about 1,000 Greek-Catholic (Uniates) living in the city.

The 19th century in Cyprus is a time of heightened missionary activity. While American Protestant activities turned out to be rather short-lived, (1833-1841), following charges of proselytizing and outspoken antagonism from the Orthodox Church, the Sisters of the Roman Catholic Order of St Joseph of the Apparition still founded a hospital, a pharmacy and a girls school in 1844. Further small schools that were founded towards the end of the 19th Century in the district of Limassol had to close due to competition of the flourishing Greek-Orthodox educational institutions.

Just like Maronites and Catholics, the Latins make up one of the official religious communities of the Greek-Cypriot majority of the island. The Demographic Report of 2004 estimates the number of Latins to 900, or 0, 1% of the Greek Cypriot community. Another survey, however, conducted with the assistance of the Roman Catholic clergy, states that the Latin Community currently consists of roughly 7.000, members, including foreign residents. These estimations rise to 13.000 Roman Catholics, when immigrants and oversea workers are added to this number. The Latin Community of Cyprus has always been ethnically heterogeneous, while from a socio-economical perspective, the Latins were and are almost entirely urban dwellers. Lately, the Latin Church of the Holy Cross in Nicosia has adjusted to the influx of large numbers of Philippine and Sri Lankan Catholics by providing services in the immigrant languages.

D 12 September 2012    AIrene Dietzel

CNRS Unistra Dres Gsrl

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