Saint Paul’s Column: Ancient Pillar Where Paul the Apostle Was Scourged with Hundreds of Lashes
Saint Paul’s Column is a historically significant landmark situated in the Cypriot city of Paphos. According to local accounts, this was the place where Paul the Apostle was tortured when he first arrived on the island to preach Christianity. Due to the column’s association with Saint Paul, the site has held immense religious significance and several churches were built close to it over the ages.
Saint Paul’s First Missionary Journey Occurred in Cyprus
Saint Paul’s connection to the island of Cyprus can be found in the 13 th chapter of the Acts of the Apostles in the New Testament. In this chapter, there are nine verses (5-13) detailing the missionary journey of Paul and Barnabas on the island of Cyprus, which was part of the saint’s First Journey. According to Acts 13, the two missionaries first landed in Salamis. Located on the east coast of the island, Salamis was the primary port and commercial center of Cyprus. Paul and Barnabas preached the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews while they were in the city.
A stunning mosaic of Saint Paul at the Agia Kryiaki Church, Cyprus
Paul and Barnabas Encounter a False Prophet
After Salamis, Paul and Barnabas made their way across the island before reaching Paphos. Although Acts does not mention the route taken by the two men, it is likely that they took the southern coastal Roman road. Along the route were such urban centers as Kition, Amathus, and Kourion where the two men would have stopped and preached. At Paphos, Paul and Barnabas encountered an alleged false prophet by the name of Elymas, known also as Barjesus, and the incident is recounted in verses 6-11.
According to Acts, Paul and Barnabas sought an audience with the Proconsul of Cyprus, a man by the name of Sergius Paulus. Elymas, however, prevented this from happening resulting in a confrontation with Paul. Filled with the Holy Spirit, Paul is said to have chastised Elymas and temporarily blinded the false prophet. When the proconsul witnessed all that had happened, he immediately believed. After this Paul and Barnabas left Cyprus for Pamphylia.
Paul’s Torture in Paphos
The torture endured by Paul when he arrived in Paphos is not mentioned in Acts but found in local narratives. During the time of the Roman Empire, it was common for Roman officials to appoint Jewish civic leaders as personal advisors. Elymas was likely to have been a close counsellor of Sergius Paulus. It is possible that one of the means employed by Elymas to stop Paul from preaching was to have him tortured. According to reports, Paul was tied to a pillar and scourged with 39 lashes five times. In 2 Corinthians 11: 24, Paul mentions that he received ‘forty lashes minus one’ five times from the Jews while preaching the Gospel and therefore his scourging at Paphos is plausible. On the other hand, neither Acts nor Paul’s letters mention that he was mistreated in Cyprus thus calling the stories into question.
Saint Paul’s Pillar is the larger of the two standing pillars
The Area’s Religious Significance
In any case, the tradition of Paul’s scourging imbued the area with a religious significance and several churches were built at the site. During the 4 th century AD, the Panagia Chrysopolitissa Basilica was built near Saint Paul’s Column, also known as Saint Paul’s Pillar. The basilica is considered to be the largest Byzantine church in Cyprus and originally had seven aisles. The number of aisles was reduced to five during the 6 th century and in the 7 th century the Arabs destroyed the basilica. Around the 13 th / 14 th century another church, the Gothic Church was built. The church was located on the northern side of the Panagia Chrysopolitissa Basilica and was founded by the Franciscans. When the Ottomans conquered the island, the church was converted into a mosque and was subsequently destroyed during the 16 th century.
Ancient Roman ruins that remain around the old church site in Paphos
Many ancient mosaics remain preserved on the original site
Ancient ruins around the original church site
What Remains Today?
While all that remains today of the Panagia Chrysopolitissa Basilica and the Gothic Church are its ruins, the Agia Kryiaki Church is still standing. This church was built around the end of the 15 th / beginning of the 16 th century, when the Venetians occupied the island. Although many churches were destroyed or converted into mosques during the Ottoman period this church was spared. Today the Agia Kryiaki is used by the Catholic and Anglican communities of the city.
Agia Kryiaki Church and magnificently-preserved mosaics
Inside Agia Kryiaki Church
All images credit Ioannis Syrigos
Top image: Agia Kryiaki Church. Inset: Saint Paul’s Column. Credit: Ioannis Syrigos
By Wu Mingren
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