History and Legends of Tokhni/Tashkent
By Ismail Veli…….
The village of Tokni/Dohni situated about halfway between Larnaca and Limassol is a typically medium to small sized village of Cyprus, on close inspection however it not only has a fascinating history but legends that have not only remained local but has affected Cypriot folklore like few other villages. In addition some of its early history is at least partially known. The area around the village (if not the village itself) is said to have been settled since 1500 BC. There was some confusion as to whether the rock inscriptions due to their ”raw state at Tokhni date to that period”.
George Hill in his book ‘A history of Cyprus’ (page 50-51) dismisses this theory and believes the inscriptions date to a much more recent history of 1318. This is based on the suggestions of S Menardos (1910) that it is a magic inscription of the medieval dated 1318 AD, which is connected with the theft of the relic of the cross from Tokhni, which was brought by St Helena from Jerusalem. The legend of this story is at the end of this article. Unfortunately like many small villages in Cyprus their history is either obscure or clouded in mystery and legend. Building a concise history is often difficult.
Tokhni was definitely settled around the 4th century AD and the area seemed to have played a part in the early spread of Christianity on the Island. A famine lasting 36 years in the middle of the 4th century which destroyed a large part of the eastern provinces of the Cypriot population is also the period when Christianity began to spread on the Island. Grain riots and unrest was rife and the spread of a new religion almost seems to have given people new hopes and beliefs. Though the organisation of the Church in Cyprus in the early days of Christianity is a bit sketchy, one proof of the firm establishment of Christianity is the fact that at least three sees represented the island at the council of Nicaea in 325 AD. These were Cyrillus of Paphos, Gelasius of Salamis, and Spyridon of Tremithus.
Tokhni remained a firmly Christian village until 1571. When the Island passed on to Ottoman rule it was also settled by the Muslim Ottomans. The autonomy of the Christian Greeks however was not affected as the Archbishops were given a great degree of freedom and control of their own affairs. The two religions co-existed amicably. Though not much is known about the day to day lives of the people of Tokhni, no doubt its way of life was no different to the rest of rural Cyprus. It’s never been a large village, in fact in the 1643 Ottoman census, listed as Dogni in the county of Tuzla (Nahiye-i-Tuzla) it only had 29 Christian households, which would indicate a rough population of about 120-30, unfortunately I have not seen the total population so I cannot verify the size of the Muslim population. Judging by the Ottoman census of 1831 however (only male taxpayers were registered) there were 82 Muslims and 44 Non Muslims (males only). Judging by this it’s possible the ratio may have been roughly the same. This of course is purely speculative. An interesting aspect of the census of 1831 also revealed the following statistics which gives us an idea on the livelihood of the village as a whole.
|Population||82 Muslims. 44 non Muslims (only male taxpayers were counted in the 1831 census)|
|Dwellings||39 (Muslim owned) 24 (Christian owned)|
|Farming land||1.556.75 donums (Muslim owned). 1146 donums (Christian owned)|
|Gardens/vegetables/vineyards||9 donums (Muslim owned) 17.25 donums (Christian owned)|
|Wells, water tanks, water pools, water holes||None|
|Walnut trees||5.5 donums (Muslim owned) 1 donum (Christian owned)|
|Berry trees||8 donums (Muslim owned) 5 donums (Christian owned)|
|Hazel nut trees||None|
|Carob trees||723 (Muslim owned) 1250 (Christian owned)|
|Olive trees||453 (Muslim owned) 406 (Christian owned)|
|Almond trees||1 (Muslim owned) 2 (Christian owned)|
|Lemon, orange trees||None|
|Irrigated land and cane fields||None|
Today there are no Muslims in the village as they have all moved to Vouni in the north of the island, and of course the UK. There still remains however a mosque, madrasah and a Muslim burial ground in the eastern part of the village, though they are in disrepair. The modern history of the village is so tragic that it’s best left to other articles or historians to research and write about the events, which are outside the scope of this article.
At present the village has been designated as an agro-tourism location that promotes the original and traditional stone houses. The majority of buildings use the ‘Tokhni stone’ which is quarried nearby. Hiring bikes is readily available in order to explore the surrounding countryside.
One of the most interesting aspects of the village is that it has one of the most fascinating legends since medieval times.
Apparently St Helena, on her return from Jerusalem, was washed ashore at Zygi near the mouth of the river which today is called ‘Potamos tis Vasilisas’ (River of the Queen). While resting on the shore, an angel appeared to her in a dream and commanded her to build a church to shelter the cross of the penitent thief, which she brought from Jerusalem, and at the same time build a smaller church in which was to be placed a fragment of the ‘True Cross’. The Empress carried out the angel’s command and built the Monastery of Stavrovouni to shelter the cross of the ‘Penitent Thief, while near where she landed she built the church of Tokhni to receive the ‘True Cross’.
In 1318 a Latin priest Sir John Santamarin went to Tokhni and stole the cross. He went to a boat which was waiting at the shore, but no sooner had he set foot on the boat a great storm arose and he was forced to land again. The priest, therefore stripped off the jewels, gold and pearls which decorated the cross and decided to throw the relic itself into the hollow centre of a carob tree where it remained for 22 years.
One day a shepherd boy, named George, while guarding his master’s flock fell asleep. In a dream an angel appeared to him, and told him that in the tree beneath which he slept was the missing cross of Tokhni. Three times the angel appeared to the boy. He took no notice the first two times as he thought it was just a dream, the third time the angel was angered, and the boy ran in terror to the village and persuaded some friends to go back to the tree. When they returned they found the tree burning, but only the leaves were burning and the tree was not consumed by the fire. They stood and watched in amazement as the fire died down. One of the boys being bolder than the others climbed up into the tree and down its hollow centre where he found the cross. The cross was taken back to the village and at once miraculous cures were performed. Cripples, paralytics and others recovered from their illnesses. The Latin Bishop of Famagusta heard these stories and became jealous, and declared the cross a fraud put forward by the Orthodox Church.
The whole island became torn in their thoughts. The Orthodox Church maintaining that the cross was the genuine relic of St Helena, the Latin’s declaring that it was a forgery. Finally King Hugh IV was appealed to, in order to help settle the dispute one way or another. There was only one way that the matter could be settled. If the wood that made the Cross of Christ was genuine then it could not be destroyed by fire. On the day of the trial the cross was brought to Nicosia into the great audience chamber of the palace. On one side stood the proud nobles of the Latin faith, on the other the humble and untidy peasants from the village of Tokhni, with them their priest in his sombre robes. The great royal brazier with four corners was brought in and filled with charcoal and set alight. The cross was then laid on it and soon became red hot. so that many said ”it is burnt”. Queen Alice, the wife of King Hugh, had been struck dumb for insisting on entering the Church of Makhaeras, which was forbidden to women, and her tongue had remained tied for three years. After an hour the cross was taken off with a pair of tongs, and the cross came out exactly as it had been before being put on the fire. When the Queen saw that the cross was unharmed, she cried out aloud, ”I believe that this cross here is of the wood of the cross upon which Christ the son of God was crucified.” All realised the miracle, for these were the first words the Queen had uttered for three years.
The subsequent history of this cross is obscure. Mary d’Ibelin, mother of the Queen who was also present at the trial, was so amazed at the miracle and the recovery of her daughter that she obtained permission from the King to build a Church for the cross. The church was built between Nicosia and Ayios Dometios, but nothing remains of this building, and its exact site is forgotten.
The present church in Tokhni is of course dedicated to the Holy Cross. It was completely rebuilt in the nineteenth century and is situated in the middle of the bridge over the river, which divides the village into two parts. The reason given for this curious site is that at one period Tokhni was infested by forty devils.