Preveli Monastery, Crete
This was one of the trips we took with our daughter and her family when we took them to Crete in the summer of 2009. It was about an hour's drive across the island from where we were staying near Rethymnon and we did enjoy some splendid scenery on the drive across including a lovely old fashioned windmill which we stopped to photograph on our way home.
The famous monastery sits on the rocky hills of Preveli canyon, on the southern side of Rethymnon prefecture in Crete. It actually consists of two monasteries, the Lower or Kato Preveli and the Upper or Pisso Monastery of Agios Ioannis Theologos which is about 3 km far from Kato Preveli. The one we visited was the upper one dedicated to St John the Theologian.
A Brave History:
The Monastery has a very interesting history due to the active and leading involvement of its monks in all trials and wars that the people of Crete have suffered. This is what makes it a place of special recognition and respect throughout the island of Crete.
Monastery of Preveli is located at the south of Prefecture of Rethymnon with the most stunning views over the sea as it is built high on a cliff top. The oldest date found in the monastery is 1594 and it is engraved on a bell of the monastery. The monastery was probably founded during the Venetian occupation by a feudal lord known as Prevelis. In 1649 the Turks occupied Crete, and unfortunately destroyed numerous church establishments, among them the monastery of Preveli.
The role of the Monastery in the World War II:
During WW II the Monastery of Preveli became a shelter for the foreign troops who were trapped in Crete and being hunted by the German Army. Two escape missions were organized and the troops were transferred safely to Egypt. After the second mission became known to the German Army and they tried to arrest the abbot Agathagelos Lagouvardos but luckily he was informed of this and he managed to escape too. When the German Army arrived at the Monastery on August 25, 1941 the soldiers caused a lot of damage to the monastery and the monks were arrested and but later released. The soldiers also removed from the Monastery buildings various goods and furnishings and from the church they took that most precious relic, the miraculous Cross of Ephraim Prevelis; fortunately it was later returned under almost miraculous circumstances. Despite this the monks continued to work secretly with the allied troops against the German occupation.
The Abbot Agathangelos sadly died before he could return to Crete after working bravely with Greek troops in the Middle East. The role of the Monastery in the struggle against the Germans was widely recognized, not only by those soldiers who immediately benefited, but by the Governments of the Allied Powers.
This history is proudly seen in the museum if visiting the monastery today you can see the display about the story of The Battle of Crete which was sent the Greek community in Perth, WA in memory and gratitude of the work done by the monks in Preveli to help them at that time.
When we arrived we managed to park the cars in a nearby carpark and had to walk up to the monastery. My daughter was wearing shorts and was given, much to her disgust, a lovely skirt on an elastic waist band to wear over them. Luckily my shorts were longer so I was not offered one.
We made our way through to the courtyard from where we could enjoy the wonderful views down to the sea over what looked like a lovely beach. When we tried to get to the beach later it was a hard walk and you had to climb down (then up again to get back) sort of wooden steps. That may account for why it looked so empty and unspoilt.
There was a lovely fountain in the courtyard which provides the monastery with its water. It has a date on it on an inscription showing 1701. The boys enjoyed the fountain and we used it as a backdrop for some photos.
From here you can visit the museum which is housed in a building that was once the stables.
Inside the museum:
Not only can you see the display sent by the Greek community from Western Australia but also you can see the famous Preveli Benediction Cross. This cross had been carried into every battle and is felt to have special powers and has indeed been associated with many miracles especially related with eye diseases. It is a large silver cross in a typical Greek cross shape being wider at the ends.
Strange stories are believed about the cross. In 1823, in a battle against the Turks at Amourgeles the cross was lost. The Cross was found with some Genoese sailors, who had bought it in Heraklion. They apparently returned the Cross to the Monastery when their ship simply stopped in the water while sailing near the Monastery of Preveli. They were only able to proceed after the precious relic was given back to the monastery.
In 1941 when the Germans removed the Cross from the Monastery and tried to send it in Germany the plane carrying the cross could not take off. They tried another airplane and once again failed so a few days after the looting, the Cross was back at its position at the monastery.
I love stories like this with a bit of mystery so was quite intrigued.
The little church (Katholikon) of the Monastery is also here and it dates from 1837. Luckily the church was largely left by the Germans and it has the usual church aura when you are inside. Even our grandsons lowered their voices when we were looking in here. It is not huge but there are some intricate carvings on the pillars and the pulpit is beautiful carved wood and gold apparently carved by one of the abbots in 1863.
Would I recommend a visit?
Yes indeed. The monastery is a really beautiful building, or series of buildings built high on a cliff with outstanding views fit for a 5* hotel. It was a peaceful, quiet place to wander around. We were not with a tour so we had to read about the history before and while we were there. I rather liked the idea of wandering at our own pace and not being bombarded with a lot of historical facts. I do enjoy a guide sometimes but often find I get' information overload 'after about 5 minutes.
This was a peaceful and atmospheric place to explore. I have talked about two of the main buildings but there were more places to explore but our little boys were getting fed up. I can't remember a cafe there at all so you need to take your own water in the summer and snacks for the journey if you have little ones.
After we left the monastery we attempted to visit Preveli beach but were put off by the climb down and up with two small boys so instead we went on to Plakia beach which is not that far away.
Obviously you can go into the history at a far deeper level and look into the architecture as well but as a family friendly visit we really enjoyed what we saw and learned a bit about |Cretan history and the very interesting history of this actual monastery too. So definitely worth a visit if you are in Crete in my view.
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