Three Monasteries and a Convent
Religion is a big thing in Greece. Every town has at least one Greek Orthodox Church, and usually several. There are random churches out in the countryside not near any towns. Besides churches, there are also many monasteries, as well as a few convents. While on Crete, we visited two monasteries, and when in the Delphi area, we visited another monastery (which by itself had three churches) and a convent.
It seems each church and monastery has its own particular rules. Very often, photography is not permitted inside the churches. This is such a common rule that I was surprised when photography was allowed. And even when it is allowed, it is consider rude to photograph the main altar. At many of the cultural sites in Greece, tripod use is prohibited without special permission/fees. I assumed this was true of the many churches we visited, and did all my photography in the churches and monasteries hand-held and without a flash. The churches are typically very dark, requiring the use of high ISOs. On the other hand, outside the buildings, it was sunny most of the time we were there, and I don’t know how many times my camera complained (okay, it just had a flashing warning in the viewfinder) about not having a fast enough shutter speed available when I forgot to change the ISO off of 6400.
Here are a few of my thoughts and shots from our visits to three monasteries and a convent.
Moní Arkadhíou, or the Arkadi Monastery, is located in central Crete southeast of Rethymnon. The monastery was apparently founded in the 5th century, but the present church was built 1587. This monastery is most famous for an incident in the Creten revolt of Ottoman rule in 1866. Over 900 Greeks, mostly women and children, sought refuge in the monastery. With the monastery under attack by the Ottomans and the Creten fighters defeated, the abbot gathered the remaining people in the powder room in the monastery, and when the Ottomans arrived at the door, he set the barrels of powder on fire, choosing sacrifice rather than surrender. Today, you can visit the remains of the power room ans well view some of the skulls of the sacrificed victims in an ossuary in a former windmill outside the monastery walls.
The monastery is inside a walled compound, with the Venetian church centered in the large courtyard. Several gardens are located behind the church. The interior of the church is beautiful, but photography is prohibited. There is a small museum with nice icons. Several interior rooms are open with old artifacts.
Moní Prevelí sits on the southern coast of Crete overlooking the Libyan Sea. It was also played a historic role in Creten history, when during World War II, the monks hid trapped Allied soldiers from the Nazis, helping them escape by submarine. Most of the monastery is off limits to visitors, at least when we visited. There is a small museum with some very impressive icons and a small church (again, no photography allowed inside). Other than that, access was limited to a portion of the courtyard. The view over the sea is fantastic. Frankly, with the limited access at the monastery, I wasn’t sure the drive out there was worth it. However, nearby the monastery is a short but steep trail to the beautiful Prevelí Beach, also known as Palm Beach. Combining a visit to the monastery with the beach made a good day trip.
Okay, this view isn’t actually at the monastery, but is from the trail down to the nearby Palm Beach.
Of all the places Tanya and I visited in Greece on this trip, the Monastery of Hosios Loukas was perhaps my favorite. The monastery was founded by the hermit of Helicon – the Venerable Saint Luke the Stiriote (not to be confused the Evangelist of the Gospel of Saint Luke) – in the 10th century. The site contains two co-joined churches within the monastery walls (and a newer church outside the walls). The relics (physical remains) of Saint Luke are in a small chamber between the two churches. The relics are said to produce healing miracles.
The monastery is a well deserved UNESCO World Heritage Site. Simply, the interior of the larger church, the Katholikon, is amazing. The mosaics, frescoes and other decorations are impossible to describe, and my photographs do not truly capture the ancient beauty of the place. Tanya and I just stood in wonder beneath the magnificent mosaic on the domed ceiling (the featured image above). There are more frescoes in the burial crypt beneath the Katholikon.
The monastery grounds are widely open to visitors and include a small museum and several exhibits. Surprisingly, photography is allowed in the churches.
A short distance west of Delphi is the convent of Moni Profiti Ilia. It is relatively “new” compared to the other monasteries we visited, being built in the 19th century. It is famously where Essaeas, the bishop of Salona, raised the flag to officially start the Greek revolution March 24, 1821.
We drove up the convent, which sits high on a mountainside overlooking the Sea of Corinth, and found the door to the walled compound closed. There was a small sign, but being in Greek, we could not read it. No one was around, so I took a few photos, and we prepared to leave. About that time, two men drove up and parked near the door. They went to the door and apparently rang a buzzer/intercom and opened the door and went in.
Tanya and I went back and buzzed the intercom. A young nun answered in English and told us to come inside. However, we couldn’t open the door (we couldn’t figure out the latch). We buzzed again and she came and let us in. Once inside, she made Tanya put on a dress over her pants (we knew that one shouldn’t wear shorts, but didn’t know about the dress dress code for women).
There wasn’t that much to see here. You can walk around the courtyard, which has lovely gardens. And they do have a beautiful church – no photos inside and you should not cross your legs when sitting (both feet on the floor please) – in which the young nun kept watch over us. An elderly nun (no English) into their dining hall for homemade candy and a cold glass of water. One of the two men who entered before us interpreted as the nun was very curious about Americans visiting. It turns out there are only about a dozen nuns there, while the place looked like it could house one hundred.