The head of Cyprus' Orthodox Church on Wednesday pledged to rebuild a row of historic homes that were partially demolished next to an under-construction cathedral amid a public outcry over what government officials described as an "unlawful" action.
The office of Archbishop Chrysostomos II told The Associated Press that that the archbishop dispatched a letter to Nicosia municipal authorities promising to restore the church-owned homes to their original state.
A church official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to speak to the media about the matter, said the crumbling homes, dating to the beginning of the 20th century, were at risk of collapse and crews were working to render them safe.
The homes were next to a large cathedral now being built on the grounds of the church's headquarters inside of the Cypriot capital's medieval center. The multimillion-euro project is replacing a much smaller and older cathedral on the opposite side off the church grounds.
But both the Cyprus Interior Ministry and Nicosia municipal authorities said the owner was obligated by law to restore the sandstone homes to their former glory.
"This act to demolish the homes was truly unacceptable. It genuinely saddens us whenever a piece of our cultural heritage is lost," Nicosia Mayor Constantinos Yiorkadjis said.
Public anger at the demolition was evident in social media posts, with many labeling the action a "crime."
Yiorkadjis said the demolition was unlawful because municipal authorities neither granted permission nor had the church submitted such a request.
Cyprus' Interior Ministry said in a statement that even if the homes were deemed unsafe, the owner should first proceed with work to buttress their structural integrity following official approval, which in this case wasn't done. The ministry said 7,000 structures have been designated as protected historic sites around the country and that the government provides owners financial support for their restoration.
Attorney General George Savvides said he would look into matter to determine if there's a potential legal course of action that may be pursued.