Your travel guide on Crete

Category Archives: Monasteries of Crete

if you are in search of the best beaches to visit in Crete, here is our first suggestion: Agiofarago beach.
Located about 80km south of Heraklion city, at the exit of the homonym Gorge of Agiofarago, clear blue waters await you!
The beauty of the place exists to its not so easy access as if you want to go, you should either hike for approximately 50′ the gorge or catch a boat from Matala, Agia Galini, or Kali Limenes.

The crystal secluded beach at the end of Agiofarago Gorge

Agiofarago Gorge, one of the special gorges In Crete, is located in Heraklion, between the Monastery of Odigitria and the seaside village Kaloi Limenes. It will take you about 20 minutes to cross. At the beginning of the route, you will see the church of Agia Kyriaki which is in a cave! In the gorge is also the church of St. Anthony which is also partly in a cave and was the center of the ascetics of the region. The several archaeological findings in Agiofarago, show that there has been activity in the Minoan and Venetian times. Characteristic is the Minoan, circular, domed tomb near the church of St. Anthony. Shortly after, you will find a cave with a low entrance and a large room. The Abbot of the Monastery of St. Anthony lived there.

According to history, Agiofarago was inhabited by hermits since at least the 11th century. When you cross the gorge you will reach a beautiful beach overlooking the Libyan Sea! We recommend good to keep water with you, as in the gorge there are no sources of water.

 

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Kapsa Monastery is east of Makry Gialos, on the road to Goudouras. Its full name is the Monastery of Agios Ioannis Kapsa (St John Kapsa) and it is a dependency of Toplou Monastery near Vai and Sitia.

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The monastery looks as though it has been carved into the hill at the exit of Pervolakia Gorge, gazing out over the Libyan Sea and Koufonissi Island opposite.

Kapsa Monastery is open daily at 06.30-12.30 and 15.30-19.00. The rules of suitable dress for entering the church are quite strict.

Kapsa Monastery celebrates its feast-day on 29 August, the Decollation of Agios Ioannis Baptist. Thousands of faithful come from various parts of Crete to attend the great festival, even coming on foot from nearby villages.

How to get to Kapsa Monastery

Kapsa Monastery is 7 km from Makry Gialos. If you are coming from Sitia (37 km), you need to turn towards Goudouras, while if you are coming from Ierapetra (32 km east), just keep straight along the road after Makry Gialos and Analipsis.

The tarmac road offers an exceptional view of the small bays nearby. You might like to stop for a swim in one of them, it’s extremely tempting!

The history of Kapsa Monastery

According to the most widely-accepted view, Kapsa Monastery was founded in the 15th century, though other sources indicate it may have been established much earlier in the 14th or even the 13th century.
In 1471 the Turks raided it from the sea and destroyed a large part of the monastery. The area passed through many hands and was named after one of its owners, who was called Kapsas.

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The half-ruined monastery was restored 400 years later by the monk Joseph Gerontoyiannis, who made it famous throughout Crete and indeed the rest of Greece. The work of Gerontoyiannis was continued by his grandson Joseph Gerontakis and the abbots who came after him.

Kapsa Monastery was a centre of resistance to the German forces of occupation in the period 1941-1944. Greek and British resistance operatives came here to seek refuge before being taken to Egypt by British submarines. The Abbot at the time was Hilarion Syntychakis, who was forced to abandon the monastery along with the other monks in November 1943, by order of the Germans. After the war, however, they returned.

Saint Joseph Gerontoyiannis

saint joseph gerontoyiannis

In 1799 Ioannis Vitsentzos or Gerontoyiannis (“Old John”) was born in the half-ruined monastery. This was the man who was destined to restore Kapsa Monastery in 1861. In his youth Gerontoyiannis was not exactly virtuous or a good Christian. He was a brawling, stubborn, hard-hearted man who used the monastery and the nearby gorge as his hideout when the Turks were after him.

He married and had four children, three daughters and a son. One Sunday he and his wife Calliope went off to sell wood and buy wine from the neighbouring villages of Chandras and Armeni. The children were left alone and this proved fatal to one of his daughters, who was burned to death in a fire. Gerontoyiannis saw this tragic accident as divine punishment for his sinful life and because he worked that Sunday instead of going to church.

From that moment onwards his life changed completely and he became a reformed character. Gerontoyiannis devoted his life to works of charity and the worship of God. It is said that he saw visions and healed all those who came to him for help. Kapsa Monastery, where he lived, became famous throughout Crete and many pilgrims came here from afar to pray. One of the faithful was the local landowner, Chatzi Nikolaos Zafiris, who gave the land to Gerontoyiannis in 1841 to restore the monastery.

Gerontoyiannis worked hard for the restoration of the monastery, but our information on the state of Kapsa Monastery in 1841 is scanty. The only fact we know for certain are that it included the cave church of Agios Ioannis, a well with brackish water, and two half-ruined buildings which were restored and can still be seen today.

the cave at kapsa where gerontoyannis lived
the cave where Gerontoyannis lived

The work on Kapsa Monastery continued for years, while the second aisle of the monastery, devoted to the Holy Trinity, was built in 1861. The carved wooden icon screen of Kapsa Monastery was made in 1869 by Chatziminas and painted in 1874 by Antonis Alexandridis.

Gerontoyiannis himself, who had become a monk and taken the name Joseph, lived in a cave 100 yards from the monastery and continued to preach and heal until his death on 6 August 1874. Today he is honoured as Agios Iosif Gerontoyiannis (Saint Josef Gerontoyiannis ) on 7 August.

In the years that followed, Gerontoyiannis’s grandson, Archimandrite Joseph Gerontakis, extended the monastery, brought water to it and cultivated the land in the surrounding area.


Walking down the footpath from Gouverneto Monastery through the Avlaki Gorge, in a wild and beautiful landscape, you will see, in about 30 minutes’ walk, the ruined Katholiko Monastery (Moni Katholikou) or Monastery of St John the Hermit, or simply Katholiko.

The buildings you see probably date to shortly after 1600, but tradition says that there was a much earlier monastery here, the oldest in Crete. Unfortunately this is not confirmed by historical sources, and the Venetian census of 1637 does not mention a monastery here, only the church of St John the Hermit which belonged to Gouverneto Monastery.

However, the importance of the name Katholiko should not be overlooked. A “katholiko” is the main church of a monastery, where the monks gather to pray each day. This name is strong evidence for the existence of an old monastery on the spot, even if all traces of it have now been lost.

It is also said that the monks abandoned Katholiko Monastery due to pirate raids and built a new monastery, Gouverneto. Researchers doubt this, given that Katholiko Monastery was dedicated to St John the Hermit, while Gouverneto Monastery is dedicated to the Virgin. This change would have been considered deeply disrespectful to the saint of the older monastery, so this information is considered doubtful.

The Cave of St John the Hermit

Next to the ruined but still impressive buildings is the cave of St John the Hermit, who is thought to have come here from Egypt and was active in many parts of Crete, such as Azogyre, before ending up at Akrotiri.

The Cave of St John, once the bed of an underground river, is over 100 metres long and covers an area of 1,500 sq.m. This was the retreat of St John the Hermit, who lived off wild greens in the winter and carobs in the summer. Legend has it that, near the end of his life, he was no longer strong enough to walk upright, due to his poor diet and the hardships of the ascetic life.

One day a distant hunter mistook him for an animal, as he was walking all crouched up, and injured him with his arrows.

The injured saint returned to his cave and breathed his last lying on a rock, now known as “St John’s bed”.

This rock is supposed to have healing properties and many people used to break bits off to take away with them.

If you follow the path for another ten minutes you will come to the sea, in a tiny, deep cove with aquamarine waters. It may once have been used as a harbour and has its own legend.If you follow the path for another ten minutes you will come to the sea, in a tiny, deep cove with aquamarine waters. It may once have been used as a harbour and has its own legend.

 


The Monastery of the Holy Trinity of Tzagarolon is located at cape Melecha in Chania and is one of the most important monasteries of Crete, dating back to the end of the Venetian occupation.

The Holy Monastery of Agia Triada (Holy Trinity) of Tzagarolon

According to the tradition, which has been confirmed by documents held in the archives of Venice, it was built by brothers Jeremy and Laurentios Tzagarolous who come from a large Venetian and Cretan family and have had a strong influence on both Orthodox population and Catholic Venetians. During the Revolution of 1821, the convent was burned by the Ottomans many relics were destroyed. Nine years later, the Ottoman authorities gave permission for the temple of the monastery to be completed by monks Kalliopios and Grigorios. The Belfry was built in 1864 and there was a seminary in the monastery from 1892 to 1905, while during the revolution of 1896-97 the monastery served as a hospital and headquarters for the rebels. During the 2nd World War, the monastery was first used by the Greeks for storing supplies and later, after the occupation of Crete by the German troops, in 1942, the Germans established there the School of anti-aircraft artillery, which accommodated 150 to 200 soldiers in 1944. The Monastery of Agia Triada (Holy Trinity) of Tzagarolon has never ceased playing an important role in the religious and economic development of Crete and it attracts a lot of believers every year.