Living saints in Byzantine frescoes: Panagia Gouverniotissa Monastery

Meeting the Seven Centuries-Old Painted Saints 

 Crete has been a place of intense spirituality and religiosity, throughout its long and turbulent history.  With its ancient roots and steadfastness, the Orthodox Church has played an important role as a custodian of perennial values and a catalyst for Greek national identity. The beautiful monasteries, chapels, and churches, many of which have magnificent relics dating from the Byzantine era in Crete (961-1204 A.D.) are one of the many reasons why the island is an ideal destination for religious tourism enthusiasts.

 On the 15th of August, the Greek Orthodox Church commemorates the Dormition of the Mother of God (“Koemisis”), one of the largest religious holidays of the year. Traditionally on this day, the villages, churches, and icons are adorned with flowers in a festive atmosphere, and all married women named Maria celebrate their name day (“onomastik√≠ eort√≠”). There are thousands of pilgrims who visit monasteries that are preparing for the feast of the patron saint, such as the Panagia Faneromeni Monastery in Ierapetra.

 In one of our mountain hikes, we reached the famous Monastery of Panagia Gouverniotissa dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, just after the festive service.

 The monastery is located near the village of Potamies, about 8 km south of Hersonissos and 33 km east of Heraklion, on a small hill with a breathtaking view of the Lagada area and Potamies Valley. Founded in the 10th century after Crete was liberated from the Arabs, and thus considered among the oldest Byzantine monasteries in Crete, Panagia Gouverniotissa is not only a place of worship but also a great point of cultural and historical interest. 

 Even if it no longer functions as a monastery, its church operates normally, all year round. The visitors may enjoy the precious remains of original frescoes from the middle of the 14th century, the museum with the ecclesial art and crafts in the monks’ renovated cells of the 19th century, and a botanical garden with Cretan native medicinal and aromatic plants. 

 There is a special area for periodic exhibitions inside the Monastery. Also, well-known Greek artists offer concerts every summer in the landscaped area next to the building. The most valuable icons, the iconostasis, and the church door are exhibited at the Historical Museum of Crete in Heraklion.

 The church is cruciform with a dome reinforced with wooden beams. It is decorated with great frescoes with various themes, such as Christ the Pantocrator in the dome, the Prophets, the Passions, the Crucifixion of Jesus, the life of the Virgin Mary, the Miracles of Jesus, etc. 

 Featuring the Byzantine artistic influences from Constantinople of the 12th-15th centuries, Panagia Gouverniotissa has retained its value as a religious monument up to the present day and is considered among the most important churches with frescoes in Crete. Its centuries-old painted saints are faded, yet they still have the power to silently speak to the watcher's soul.

 If you are passionate about cultural itineraries or religious pilgrimages, until you plan a visit to Crete, we invite you to enjoy our photos from Panagia Gouverniotissa!

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