Crete is a land of saints and heroes. It has a long spiritual tradition, which includes its historical monuments, its churches, monasteries and country churches, as well as its mountains, gorges and other places of rare natural beauty.
These places send messages from the past and offer the visitor a different perspective, which fight against the alienation and decadence of modern times. The modern man, tired of the overwhelming way of life in the world’s big cities, arrives in Crete, an island with a special personality and identity, and discovers human warmth and communication, hospitality and answers to metaphysical questions, as the relation between the earth and the heaven is still tangible here.
Source: Prefecture of Crete
Perfecture of Rethymno
All the above information was taken from the official tourism website of the Regional Unit of Rethymno http://www.rethymnon.gr/
Aplethora of churches and monasteries was built in the Prefecture of Rethymno during both the early Christian and the Byzantine period. Byzantine churches amount to an estimated 300 and 30 monasteries. The prevailing architectural style during the early Christian period was that of the “Basilicas”, which were distinguished by their wooden roof and their three aisles, of which the middle aisle was raised.
Remains of 18 basilicas of that style have been found in Rethymno. However, the architectural style that prevailed during the entire Byzantine period, from the 9th century up until the Venetian occupation, was that of cruciform basilicas with a cupola. Both cruciform, and single-aisled domed churches can be found in various places throughout the prefecture and represent true gems in the countryside of Rethymno.
Early Christian and Byzantine churches are not only of great architectural interest, they also display magnificent interior embellishments: mosaics in early Christian basilicas and frescoes in Byzantine churches. The mosaics usually present geometric forms and motifs taken from the realm of flora and fauna. The frescoes in churches, which were built after the 11th century, depict motifs of narrative character. The techniques used as well as the materials change according to the period of time. This became most obvious during the period of the Cretan Renaissance, more precisely from the 15th century and henceforth, when Byzantine iconography and traditional techniques were complemented by elements of the Renaissance of western countries.
As already mentioned above, the number of churches is so large that at this point we can only introduce a few of the most important examples.
Early Christian Basilica of Panormo
Southwest of the village of Panormo and 30 km east of Rethymno the largest early Christian church on Crete was excavated in 1948. The basilica has a wooden roof; it dates back to the 5th century and is dedicated to Aghia Sofia.
Early Christian Basilica of Goulediana
This three-aisled early Christian basilica with rich mosaic ornaments was discovered at the place of Onythe, southeast of the village of Goulediana, which is situated 18 km from Rethymno. It dates back to either the 6th or the 7th century.
Early Christian Basilica of Ancient Eleftherna
It is situated in the archaeological area of Ancient Eleftherna, at the place of Katsivelos. This three-aisled basilica with rich mosaic ornaments dates back to either the 6th or the 7th century.
Aghios Ioannis in Gerakari in the district of Amari
Outside the village of Gerakari, and 41 km from Rethymno, the church of AghiosIoannis the Theologist is situated, which dates back to the 13th century. This single-aisled church has a tiled roof. The domed narthex was added later. The church is ornamented with particularly interesting frescoes.
Aghios Dimitrios in the village of the same name
In the village of AghiosDimitrios, which is situated 10 km east of Rethymno on the road to Arkadi, the cruciform church of AghiosDimitrios inscribed with a cupola can be found. It dates back to the 11th century.
Panaghia in the village of Roustica
This two-aisled church dedicated to the Holy Virgin and Christ the Saviour is situated at the place of Livadi in the village of Roustica, 21 km from Rethymno. The walls in the interior of the church are covered with frescoes dating back to 1381. The belfry shows the inscription of the year 1627.
Kera Panaghia in the village of NevsAmari
In the wider area of the village of NevsAmari the three-aisled basilica of KeraPanaghia can be found which was built in the same place, where an older, cruciform basilica with a cupola dating back to the 13th century had existed. The south aisle with its impressing doorframe and the coat of arms of the Kalliergis family was obviously built later, probably during the 15th century.
Panaghia in Lampini
In the village of Lampini and 27 km from Rethymno in the direction of the village of Spili, the Church of Panaghia is situated. The cruciform church is inscribed with a cupola and depicts frescoes of the 12th and 14th century. It was an Episcopal church, since the village of Lampini once accommodated the seat of the famous Episcopate of Lampis, which had existed since 431.
Monastery of Vosakos
Following the old road in the direction of Heraklio, the monastery is situated approximately 50 km from Rethymno, after a north turn to the village of Doxaro. It is dedicated to the Holy Cross. The inscription at the entrance reveals that it was built in 1195, however it was destroyed twice.
The present day church is of modern style and was built towards the end of the 19th century. The monastery has a ground plan, which is set out in a parallelogram with buildings arranged around a central yard, in which the church rises up. It was destroyed by the Turks twice, in 1646 and 1821, and was completely devastated during the decade of 1950. During recent years the monastery showed signs of recovery due to the presence of monks as well as serious attempts to restore and revitalize it.
Tel. +30 28340 61883-4
The Monastery of Arsani is situated 12 km east of Rethymno. Apparently a monk called Arsenios founded it during the period of Venetian occupation, and the monastery was named after him. According to another opinion the name is derived from a woman called Arsinoe, who contributed her possessions to the building of the monastery. The cruciform, domed church as it appears today was built in 1888 and is dedicated to AghiosGeorgios. The church of present day was built on the remains of an older one, which had been consecrated in 1600. The monastery was restored in 1970, whilst the nave was ornamented with frescoes in approximately 1988/90. The monastery boasts a museum and a congress centre.
Tel. +30 28310 71228
Monastery of Bali
It is situated on a hill and offers a panoramic view on the bay and the coastal village of Bali, which is situated 37 km from Rethymno. It is also called Monastery of Atalis, a name, which the Venetians had given to the coastal village thus modifying the name of the ancient city of Astalis. Inscriptions testify that the monastery was built during the 17th century, which does not exclude that there had been a monastery there in earlier times. The church is dedicated to AghiosIoannis. Its façade shows distinct elements of the architecture of the Renaissance. Due to its position and abutting the Bay of Bali, the monastery played an important role during the revolution of 1821. Later it was deserted, and only as late as 1982 new life was breathed into it when it was restored.
Tel. +30 28340 94274
Monastery of AghiaIrini
It is situated near the settlement of the same name a few kilometres south of the town of Rethymno in the direction of Roussospiti. This very old monastery is considered to date back to as early as the 14th century. However, at some point it was destroyed and henceforth remained entirely deserted.
After restoration works were started in 1989, the monastery was given new life due to the eager activities of the nuns. Today the monastery also represents the heart of folklore traditions, which are protected and preserved by the nuns in the field of handicraft in general and of weaving and embroidering in particular, since it houses a permanent exhibition of needlework produced by the nuns themselves.
Monastery of Chalevi
It is situated near the village of Chromonastiri 12 km from Rethymno. The large, single-aisled church is dedicated to the Holy Virgin. The year 1864 is carved into the lintel. However, the monastery must have existed as early as the 16th or 17th century. Except for the church all other buildings are dilapidated and of course the monastery is deserted. Since 1991 it has been annexed to the monastery of AghiaIrini.
Tel. +30 28310 27791
The Holy Stavropegiac and Patriarchal Preveli Monastery of Saint John the Theologian (Evangelist), known as the Monastery of Preveli is located at the south of Prefecture of Rethymnon and it is the most sacred part of the Holy Diocese of Lambis and Sfakion, in whose the spiritual jurisdiction belongs. The monastery is consisted of two main building complexes, the Lower (Kato) Monastery of Saint John the Baptist and the Rear (Pisso) Monastery of Saint John the Theologian which is in operation today. The Preveli Monastery and its dependencies cover a large estate land of the Phoenix Municipality towards the Libyan sea and along the Great River (MegalosPotamos), which ends at this point. The Monastery has a glorious history due to the active and leading involvement of its fellow monks in all national endeavourers for freedom and education of our people. Thus, it merits specific recognition and respect throughout the island of Crete. In our days, the Holy Monastery of Preveli with a new monastic Brotherhood and through the immemorial coenobitic capitulary of Monachism, wishes, endeavourers and minds to give with a dynamic spiritual and adorable attendance its own orthodox martyry of worship to the God and love to the people, by supporting them to find again their true being meaning through Jesus Christ life.
The Arkadi Monastery situated on the island of Crete doesn’t solely belong to this island; it belongs to Greece, Europe and to all five continents – to the whole world. It is one of the Eastern Orthodox Monasteries underlining the catholicity and universality of the Church. Each year the Monastery receives and hosts many visitors and pilgrims from all over the world, from distant civilizations. Here are blended many languages, cultures, traditions, history and polymorphism. Nothing from the above can impede the faith unity, the catholicity of the orthodox spirit, the universality of the ecclesiastical testimony. The Arkadi Monastery has a unique natural beauty, a prestigious history, numerous legends deeply rooted in the time, heirlooms and thesaurus richness. Possibly because the old is livelier than the new, and the modern is often more mature than the aged. Each pilgrim and visitor feels something which is exclusively his, personal, original in his experiential and spiritual experience.
Archimandrite MironKalaitzis, Reverend Father of the Arkadi Monastery
Trail Spili – Holy Spirit
North of the village Spili and then back to the northwest of the mountain Voriza, is one of the most picturesque areas of Spili, the location Lapa. Olives, drygiades, cypresses, oaks bloom at an altitude of 800m. Among this rich vegetation awaits a surprise. A small, very old Venetian church, The Holy Spirit. This church has been linked to sentimental legends and miracles. It is said that workers digging to enlarge the churchyard, found bones that exuded a wonderful scent all over the place. If you bend over and listen, you will hear water tumbling rapidly, without a drop coming out. The trail starts from the village square. There is a sign that shows you the exact direction you must follow. It is worth a visit! Besides the lush landscape, the historic church in the beautifully landscaped area with wooden benches and a nearby spring, you can see right after the Holy Spirit, in Kourfonera, a large cavernous well-like hole. The route is approximately 2 km uphill with fairly good access amid lush vegetation of olives, drygiades, cypress and lentisk.
You can also visit the official website of the Prefecture of Crete in order to find further information about the monasteries and the churches in the other regions of Crete: http://www.incrediblecrete.gr