In Crete there are more than 800 churches adorned with wonderful frescoes, which depict the evolution of ecclesiastical art from the early Byzantine times to the Cretan School of Painting during the Venetian Era. There are some specific areas with an impressive number of such temples.
Apart from the great religious center of Mirabello, the area of Avdou and Episkopi by Heraklio boasts a large number of monuments of outstanding artistic and religious significance. The region that can be characterized as the largest hagiographic park site in Crete includes the provinces Selino and Kissamos. It hosts dozens of chapels bearing frescoes, painted by prominent artists of their time.
Magnificent samples of hagiography and ecclesiastical architecture are located in many other parts of Crete. One of the most famous monuments is Panagia Kera in Kritsa, while other important temples are Saint Nicolas in Kyriakosellia, Panagia in Meronas, Varsamonero, Panagia Kera Eleousa in Kitharida and more.
Influence from the past
During the transition from the worship of Roman deities to Christianity, many of the previous habits were incorporated into the new religion. Devotional caves and Minoan peak sanctuaries continued to serve the worship of Twelve Olympians and were later adapted to the Roman religion, before transforming to Christian temples.
Caves in steep cliffs and canyons are still used as places of worship. In canyons, temples are usually dedicated to Saint Anthony, such as in the gorges of Patsos, Agiofarago, Samaria, Platania, Gallos, Kotsifos. Other well-known cavernous chapels are Saint Anthony at Koudoumas, Hagia Sophia in Topolia, Agia Dynami in Argyroupoli, Saint John by Kapetaniana, Panagia Kera Spiliotissa inAgios Thomas, Saint John the Hermit at Akrotiri and Marathokefala, Panagia Arkoudiotissa at Gouverneto, Saint Andrew at Finokalias, Panagia Spiliotissa in Houdetsi, Santa Fotini in Avdou, and more.
Today, temples have been built on the site of former Minoan peak sanctuaries and serve Orthodox Christianity. Most of them are dedicated to the Holy Cross or the Prophet Elijah. The churches of Christ at the sacred mountain of the Minoans, Youchtas, the Holy Cross on the highest peak of Crete and at Kofinas, Saint Panteleimon at the site of ancient Rizinia, All Saints at Vrisinas and more are very impressive.
TipDURING THE FEAST OF THE HOLY CROSS AT THE TOP OF KOFINAS REVIVES A DENDROLATRIC CUSTOM. THE FRUITS OF THREE TREES, WHICH LOCALS CALL APPLES OF KOFINAS ARE GATHERED, BLESSED BY THE PRIEST AND SHARED TO THE PILGRIMS THAT EAT THEM.
Feasts and Customs
On the occasion of the feast of Saints of the Orthodox Christian calendar, many local feasts are organized in villages and towns of Crete, especially in August.
The feasts, along with religious and worship importance, contribute to the preservation of customs and traditions and to the social interaction of among the local communities. After the festivities in the temples, locals gather at the central squares of the villages and celebrate with music and dance till the early morning hours.
One of the most important religious traditions in Crete is the celebration of Christmas Mass in a real manger in the cave Marathokefala. Also during the festival of Saint John the Theologian at Marmaketo, on Lassithi plateau, the dried orchids of the epitaph bloom again. In Agios Thomas and on the Asterousia range ancient habits revive; temples and houses are surrounded with waxed ropes, to keep evil spirits away.
Ancient customs for curing patients are still alive. In Sfakia patients devote dough dolls to Saint Anthony to cure their illnesses and in Psiloritis they devote human shaped breads, lazaropsoma, during memorial services. During the celebration of Agia Pelagia, patients bury their aching legs or hands in the sand of the beach. In Achlade clothes are put on the sacred turpentine tree of Saint Fanourios.
Apart from the common Easter customs in Greece, Crete has some special local traditions to show. These include the auction of the Cross, the blessing of sheep under the epitaph, the burning of Judas, the transferring of the Holy Light at home while keeping silent and leaving red eggs on graves.
There are more customs, such as Klidonas, celebrated on the day of Saint John the Baptist in late June. During the feast of the Transfiguration of Christ, pilgrims devote the first grapes of the season to bless their vineyards, while on the same day at the top of the peak Afendis of range Dikti, participants try to find coins in the soil around the church. On 3rd November, on the celebration day of Saint George “Methystis” (methystis, one who makes you drunk) barrels with wine are first opened.
TipTHE VILLAGES ASI GONIA AND KAROTI AT RETHYMNON HOST THE CELEBRATION OF SAINT GEORGE. SHEEP ARE MILKED BEFORE THE PRIEST AND MILK IS SHARED TO THE CONGREGATION.
Visitors of Crete have the opportunity to admire collections of ecclesiastical art in numerous museums and open exhibitions around the island. Very old icons, priestly vestments, manuscripts, seals and books are some common exhibits.
Well organized ecclesiastical collections are housed in the Byzantine Museum of Chania, the Ecclesiastical Museum of Rethymnon and the Byzantine Collection of Heraklion hosted in the Basilica of Saint Catherine of Sinai.
Important monasteries often house folklore or religious museums with very interesting exhibits. Such collections include the monasteries of Arkadi, Toplou, Tzagaroli, Gonia, Chrysopigi, Preveli, Kalyviani and the Ecclesiastical Museum of Roustika.
TipMOST MONASTERIES IN CRETE ARE OPEN TO VISITORS. THERE ARE CERTAIN OPENING HOURS AND VISITORS SHOULD BE DECENTLY DRESSED.