May is very sunny in Crete. The joyful May sun shines over the island almost all the days. In May in Crete there is practically summer weather, but without intense heat, so at this time it is especially pleasant to make excursions around the island. Water in the sea is hardly encouraging to have a long bath at the beginning of the month. On the other hand, nature of the island is amazingly beautiful in May, and the prices for tours are still low.
Christian shrines are the greatest pride and joy of the island. In Crete, Christianity was preached by the Apostle Paul with his disciple Titus in the Ist century. The latter became later the first bishop of the island. That is, the history of Christianity in Crete lasts two millennia. There are here many historical monuments and Christian shrines from different times. Unfortunately, the shrines of Crete are little known in Russia, therefore we intend at least to assist you in knowledge of a small part of them.
The Cathedral of the Apostle Titus in Heraklion is a unique one. It combines various architectural styles. This is due to the fact that during its centuries-old history it changed hands many times, going from Orthodox to Catholics and then to Muslims. It was almost destroyed by earthquakes and fires.
In one of the fires in the 16th century, the main shrines of the cathedral survived by a miraclethe honest head of the apostle Titus and the miraculous icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary called Panagia Mesopanditissa. Later, rescuing from the Turks, they were transported to Venice. In 1966 the relics of the Apostle Titus were returned to Crete, and Panagia Mesopanditissa remains till now in Venice.
Monastery of Panagia Paliani
The monastery of Panagia Paliani, known from chronicles since 632, is 16 miles from Heraklion. It is the most ancient Convent in Crete. According to the oral tradition, it was founded much earlier than its first mention in the annals, and its name is often associated with the word combination of “palia moni” (“old monastery”). However, this is only one version: under another version the name Paliani is associated with Apoloniaan ancient town located near the monastery.
The icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary was miraculously revealed at this place. During a fire in the nearby impenetrable forest, the locals heard a voice calling for help. When the fire was extinguished, a miraculous icon was found in the thickets of charred thorny trees. After a while, the worshipers noticed that the tree depicted on the icon began to germinate. Initially, the icon was viewed through the branches and then completely disappeared. While the icon did not disappear inside the tree, it was moved to the temple and locked there, but invisibly, it returned itself back to the bosom of the tree.
Now the myrtle tree concealing the miraculous icon is growing in the southeast corner of the temple. Its particlesbark, leaves and twigsare healing. Particular favor the Mother of God provides women who want to have children. They say that the Mother of God intercedes before God for the fulfillment of all desires that come from unselfish hearts. Innocent children can see the face of the Virgin in the interweaving of branches. At a time when the icon was visible to everyone, a copy was made from it, which is now in the temple and attracts many pilgrims.
A special feast is established to honor the Virgin’s treeit is celebrated on September 24, however, no one myrtle is a shrine.
Here, in the monastery, there is a stone from the Holy Sepulcher of the Mother of God.
It was a very rich stauropegic monastery, and many monasteries and churches were subordinated to it. During the Ottoman time, the monastery was severely hit by the Turks: they made a massacre and then destroyed it completely. Nuns quickly restored it, and after that this Convent was considered one of the richest in Crete.
The main monastery church is a basilica with three naves dedicated to the Assumption, the Three Saints and St. Pantaleon. There is there also a small chapel of the Holy Apostles. The temple is based on ancient columns in the Byzantine style, with an ornament in the form of leaves, which can also be found in a few parts of the monastery. Everywhere there are marble details and parts belonging to the Byzantine time.
In the Convent there is a museum exhibiting icons, relics and some books, which are of great historical and archaeological significance. It is open to everyone from dawn to sunset.
How to get there? Turn from the New National Road in the vicinity of Heraklion, following the signs to Mires. Go south to the signpost “Venerato”. In this village, follow the signs to the Paliani monastery.
Monastery of Arkadi
The monastery of Arkadi (or Moni Arkadiou) is one of the most famous monasteries in Crete. It is located 25 km from Rethymnon at an altitude of 560 yards. The date of its foundation is not exactly established. From the inscription on the bell tower, it follows that the monastery was founded in the 16th century, but according to other documents, it was founded by the monk Arkady in the 2nd Byzantine period (961-1204).
The arch at the entrance to the monastery was destroyed in 1866 by the Turks and rebuilt in 1870. The ossuary in front of the entrance was a windmill till 1910. According to the Venetian chronicles, about 300 monks lived and worked in the monastery of Arkadi. The church of the monastery is dedicated to St. Constantine and to the Transfiguration of the Savior. At the time of the Venetian rule on Crete, the monastery was a center of education and art, but after the arrival of the Turks on the island, all it activities were suspended.
The monastery of Arkadi is known primarily for its role in the liberation movement of the Greeks against the yoke of the Ottoman Empire. It was here were the Cretan uprising against the invaders began in May 1866: 1500 people gathered in the monastery to start fighting. The Turks repeatedly tried to capture the initiators of the uprising in the Arkadi monastery, but without success. On November 7, 1866, 15 thousand soldiers of the Turkish army, coming from Rethymnon, surrounded the monastery with 30 guns and began the assault. Inside, there were only 260 armed men and about 700 women, and children. The forces were unequal, and the abbot of the monastery with the few survivors of the rebels took refuge with women and children in the armory, from where they fought to the last and almost all died. The result was 845 dead, 114 prisoners and 3-4 people were able to hide. The Turks lost twice as many, about 1,500 soldiers. These events went down in history as “the genocide of Arkadi.”.
In the monastery you can get acquainted with its heroic history.
It’s one of the largest and most well-kept monasteries in Crete.
During the Byzantine Empire, it was a monastery. Since the XIV century, a temple dedicated to the miraculous image of the Mother of God of the Life-giving Source has been preserved here. This icon is revered in the Convent, as the main shrine.
In the cathedral church of the Convent is a copy of the miraculous icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary with the Root of Jesse. In the icon case with the copy is placed an impregnated with myrrh piece of icon’s cloth belonging to the original icon, which is located on the island of Andros. In the monastery miraculously were recovered the relics of the martyred monks who suffered for their faith during the Turkish rule: in the monastery chapel the relics were walled in. The relics of the holy martyrs work many miracles carefully recorded by the sisters of the Convent.
The monastery traditionally was engaged in charity, as early as the description of 1873 reflects the existence on its territory of a shelter for orphans and the elderly, as well as for former prisoners; and now the Convent has a shelter for girls and a boarding house for single women. It has a large, well groomed territory with many flowers, 5 churches, a museum, a large store of icons and products made by girls.
How to get there? From the National Road in the area of the city of Heraklion, follow the signs to the town of Mires. After passing Mires through, continue driving along the main road towards the town of Timbaki (Timpaki). Approximately three and a half kilometers after Mires, it will be a turn to the right leading to the Convent.
Monastery of Diskouriou
A small monastery of Diskouriou can be visited on the way to Zoniana. The monastery is located near the village of Axos, on the border of the regional units of Rethymnon and Heraklion. In its place once stood the ancient temple of Zeus, from the stones of which the church of the monastery has been built. During the Turkish yoke it was the center of local resistance and in 1821 was strongly destroyed by the Turks.
Inside, instead of one church, there are three small churches! In one of them is the miraculous icon of St. George, before which unbreakable vows are pronounced. It is considered as protector of the local shepherds, so on April 23, on the day when St. George is celebrated, the cattle-breeders from the surrounding villages gather in the monastery for the feast. In another church there is an interesting copy called “Complaints of Christ”.
If you will go down from the mountain, leaving Diskouriou, you can see then a beautiful village in a small valley among the rocks. In this village, there is just a chic tavern with delicious Cretan cuisine, and the herbalist’s shop where you can buy herb of a mountain tea.
Vosakou monastery of the Holy Cross is located in the midst of the Talos Mountains (Talea Ori). The name comes from the Dorian dialect and means “the place of keeping cows”, perhaps alluding to the occupation of local residents.
On one of the buildings, there is an inscription on a stone that the monastery was built in 1195, twice destroyed and rebuilt again. History says about 17-20 monks lived here. All of them were killed by the Turks. Finally it emptied in the 50s of the last century. Now it is slowly restored. The territory of the monastery is very well maintained, there are many flowers. Now, a monk is living here.
Convent of St. Irene
The monastery is revered being one of the oldest in Crete; however, the first written mention of it dates back to 1362. Previously, the monastery was considered one of the richest in Crete, but in 1822 it was destroyed by the Turks during the occupation of the island. Only in 1944 the monastery was restored in its former splendor.
The monastery is located in a very picturesque placeon the slope of a mountain range, at an altitude of 690 yards. From the monastery, one magnificent view to the island opens up, always evoking delight among all visitors; and the monastery itself is very beautifulancient buildings drowning in greenery, and the basilicas delight with their exquisite southern architecture.
Today it’s a Convent – one of the few flourishing in Crete. According to tourists’ reviews, its nuns cook delicious coffee. It is located 5 km south of Rethymno, at the foot of the Vrisina Mountain. A very good road leads to Convent, and it is maintained in good condition, so its gests are always pleased to visit it.
St. Anne church
Several Byzantine churches, ancient and very valuable from the historical point of view, are preserved in Anisaraki (Chania regional unit). At the entrance to the church of St. Anne, built in the 13th century, there is a rare icon of St. Anne breast-feeding the Virgin. According to the researchers, this is one of only two images representing this topic in the whole world.
Here you can see old frescoes of 1462. The church is located at the entrance to Anisaraki, where is a direction sign established by the archaeological service, but it’s better to ask local residents where to find it. The church is located in a very picturesque area surrounded by age-old olive trees.
Monastery of the Panagia Phaneromeni
It is an active monastery, located around a pristine nature. It is considered to be one of the most important pilgrimage places in eastern Crete.
The exact date of its founding is unknown, but it is believed that the monastery existed already in 1282, because rebels gathered there at that time to discuss plans for their struggle against the Venetian invaders. During the occupation there was a school in the monastery, which is still operating today. It is believed that the present monastic complex dates back to the 19th and 20th centuries. It was built on a high stony slope in front of a huge rock, in the cave of which is the main temple of the monastery. The monastic complex consists of four groups of buildings, united around a narrow courtyard and designed for defense. It is undoubtedly an excellent example of the development of the monastic architecture in Crete in the 19th century.
On August 15, in the monastery is celebrated the Assumption of the Virgin. Every year, especially on holidays, many guests come to it. The Panagia Phaneromeni is miraculous, therefore it is widely known on the island, and in the entire Lassithi regional unit. Therefore, in August, the month dedicated to the Virgin Mary, the monastery becomes one of the most popular destinations for pilgrims in eastern Crete; and the feast of the Virgin, on the 15th of September, is a unique event. Every day many guests arrive there to pray on the mountain to the Mother of God.
Monastery of St. George
On the road Iraklion-Agios Nikolaos in the Selinari gorge, where the mountain range, stretching from the peak of Selena to the Cretan Sea, suddenly abruptly ends, lays the functioning monastery of St. George. The Church of St. George Selinaris is a small one-nave temple of the 16th century with a lancet arch, decorated with modern murals.
According to a legend, three brothers fled from the island of Rhodes, conquered by the Turks in 1552, and settled in the village Vrachasion. One of them, Nikolaos, took monastic vows and become hermit at the Selinaris gorge. It is believed that he was the founder of a small church of St. George. The monk lived in a cave on the opposite slope of the mountain, where he died. During his lifetime, he carved his own grave, the traces of which are at the place where later a large cross was erected that was visible from the courtyard of the church. It is not known how this place was used in the years of Ottoman domination, but the small cells around the temple indicate that there was a certain community.
Work on construction of buildings and bringing the surrounding in order, intended to facilitate access of pilgrims, started in 1934. Today, the newly painted church with the chapel is part of the modern monastery. In places reserved for pilgrims, there is a water source.
The Toplou monastery, called also the Theotokos of Akrotiri, is one of the most significant and beautiful monasteries on the island. The monastery is impressive already from afar, resembling a small fortress, surrounded by a 10-meter wall and with an impressive bell tower of 36 yards in height, looking unassailable and lonely. It is located in an almost deserted area and is adjacent only to giant turbines of a wind farm. It’s because the other temples in the surrounding were destroyed during pirate raids, and Toplou himself was seriously injured. After prolonged restorations, it finally became available for visiting.
In addition to services, the monks here are engaged in more worldly affairs. At the monastery, there is a site with vineyards and olive trees. The clergy work hard for a good harvest and then process olive oil, and a very tasty wine that is sold. The paid money is used to maintain the monastery.
A few years ago it was completely isolated, because to reach it was possible only by sea. This easternmost monastic center on the southern coast of Crete is built on a steep bank close to steep rocks. The construction of the monastery continued uninterrupted from the Byzantine time until the last century.
Yannis Vitsentzos or Gerontoyannis was born in 1799 in dilapidated at the time Little Kapsa monastery of the honest John the Baptist. The newest history of the monastery begins with the decision to restore it in 1841 on the Kapsa wasteland. Saint Gerontoyannis lived for 15 years in a cave located to the north-west of the church. Old cells were given to pilgrims, many of whom, including novices, wanted to become hermits, living next to him. This was the reason for the restoration of the monastery, its old buildings and the erection of new ones.
The saint lived very ascetic, praying and fasting. The Lord generously rewarded him: the monk daily performed miraculous acts to all those who came to him with faith in God. Driven by an endless love for the sinful person, following the example of our Lord Jesus Christ, Gerontoyannis, preserving pacification of his soul, advised, strengthened and healed all those in need, returning them with the help of the Lord their forces of soul and body. It was well known to all that salt water will be drinkable, if the saint cross it. The cassock thrown into the sea was becoming a raft, on which he often crossed the sea and without challenges reached Koufonisian island located far enough from the monastery.
On August 9, 1874, in the church of the Honorable John the Baptist, in the southwestern corner, in a rocky grave, he was buried by his grandson, who later became hegumen of the monastery, Archimandrite Joseph Gerondakis. After it, the holy relics along with his skull were reburied in a silver sarcophagus in a prominent place in the temple and exuded a fragrance. On November 16, 2004, he was ranked among the saints of the Orthodox Church by the Patriarchate of Constantinople. Today the monastery is active.
More information about other monasteries and churches in Crete can be found at: www.cretanbeaches.com/ru/религия/