The Eagle's Nest - Monastery of Panagia Faneromeni / Video

A holy place of Orthodox pilgrimage in eastern Crete

 Every time we embarked on a journey, we would stop at a church or monastery to rest and pray. Religious sites not only offer us moments of peace, tranquility, and escape from everyday life, but they delight our eyes and our souls with their patriarchal atmosphere and the surrounding views they delicately reveal to us.

 We drive along the coastal road, about 24 km after Agios Nikolaos towards Sitia and just before the village of Pacheia Ammos in the municipality of Ierapetra, we decide to turn south on a 6 km paved road that winds up Mount Stavros. We will be visiting Panagia Faneromeni Monastery, also known as Panagia Gournia. It is a 13th-century historical settlement and one of the most popular Orthodox pilgrimage sites in East Crete.

 The monastery is a fortress spanning two stories. It is located in a strategic position, 540 meters above sea level, on an inaccessible slope surrounded by rocks and eagle's nests. Apart from its sacred significance, it played a crucial role over the centuries by serving as a refuge and a headquarters of Cretan rebels during the turbulent times of Venetian and Turkish enslavement.

The church is located in the oldest part of the complex, on the upper level. It is believed to have been founded during the middle Byzantine period (961-1204) and was consecrated in honor of the "Dormition of Mother of God". The church is built inside a cave on a cliff top and is home to the miraculous icon of the Mother of God, also known as Panagia Faneromeni ("The Revealed One"), and several ancient frescoes. Adjacent to the sanctuary is a spring that the locals believe has therapeutic properties and refer to as "Zoodochos Pigi" or Life-Giving..

 The complex consists of four building sections arranged around a narrow courtyard. Outside the main complex are various outbuildings and the monastery's newest guesthouse. The building complex of the Faneromeni Monastery is undoubtedly an important example of 19th-century Cretan monastic architecture, despite the interventions that have been made in recent years, some of which have brought serious changes.

From the church terrace, one can enjoy a breathtaking view of the entire bay of Mirabello, with its charming shores, and the town of Agios Nikolaos on the left. At the foot of the mountain lie beautiful vineyards and olive groves. No noise from the worldly hustle and bustle below penetrates here. An interesting detail for visitors is that from the terrace, somewhere above the entrance to the church, there is a hollow in the rock wall, the shape of which seems to recall the figure of the Mother of God from the classical Byzantine icons.

 Descending along a marked path, across the road from the monastery, you'll find a cemetery and a small cave chapel dedicated to the Transfiguration of the Savior, 100 meters below. At the time of the sieges, a small cave nearby connected the monastery to the cemetery and served as a secret supply or escape point for the fighters.

 Continuing the tradition of many generations, every year on August 15 crowds of believers arrive on foot at the monastery to celebrate together the Dormition of Mother of God or "∆εκαπενταυγούστου" / "Decapentiaugustou" (August 15), one of the greatest feasts of Greek Orthodox Church. The monastery also hosts pilgrims from all over Greece during the two-week Lent preceding the feast, who participate with piety, humbleness, and faith in the religious services and various household activities.

The legend of the Panagia Faneromeni revealed icon

 The legend says that the icon of Panagia Faneromeni was found by a shepherd who noticed that a ram broke away from his flock every day. He decided to follow him. He saw the animal going into a cave to drink from a small spring that flowed from the rock. At this place, the shepherd was shown the icon of the Mother of God. Full of joy, he took the icon and returned to his village. 

 The next day, to his great surprise, the icon disappeared. So he decided to return to the place where he had found it. The icon was indeed still there and seemed to be untouched. He tried to bring the icon home, but the same story repeated itself a few times. After confessing the incident to his villagers, they decided to keep the icon in the cave and build a church around it, dedicated to the Assumption of the Blessed Mother and the Holy Spring.

Pages from the history of the monastery

  The monastery was probably founded before the occupation of Crete by the Venetians in 1211. According to historical sources, at the end of the 13th century, this was the headquarters of the Cretan leaders involved in the longest and most violent revolt against the Venetian conquerors (1282-1299), coordinated by the nobleman Alexios Kallergis.

 During the Turkish occupation (1669-1898), Faneromeni Monastery, like all monasteries in Crete, made significant contributions. It served as a bulwark for the militant Christian rebels, provided financial support in the fierce battles against the Turks, and offered aid and assistance to the persecuted locals. 

 The complex of fortress-like buildings gradually expanded, especially in the 18th and 19th centuries. During this period, the powerful Ottoman armies engaged in violent battles, raids, and sieges. The defensive character of the monastery is emphasized by the military architectural details, such as the shape and thickness of the outer walls, small windows, towers, battlements, and parapets, and even the special slit above the main entrance, through which scalding oil was poured on those who tried to break down the gates.

 Despite the prohibitions imposed by the Ottoman conquerors, one of the first secret schools in Crete operated within the premises of Faneromeni Monastery in a hall that can be visited today. Here the monks taught reading and writing not only to the young people who had found refuge in the monastery but also to children from neighboring villages, fostering their faith in God, their fighting spirit, their national consciousness, and their desire for unity and freedom. Faneromeni Monastery is also where the young Rodanthi, nicknamed Kritsopoula, "the girl from Kritsa", a famous local heroine and freedom fighter, was educated.

 During the German-Italian occupation in World War II, many persecuted patriots and resistance fighters found refuge and protection in the monastery. The members of Allied troops were hidden in the surrounding caves or helped to obtain asylum and escape to Egypt.

 In the last century, the monastery complex has undergone interventions, modernization, and extensions of the infrastructure, among which the construction of the building with guest rooms stands out. Today, the concern of the monks who devotedly care for and manage this historic monastery is to continue its complete renovation and restoration, without changing its character and architectural form.

How to get to Faneromeni Monastery

 The monastery is on the northern slope of Mount Dikti, relatively close to the coast, 25 km from Agios Nikolaos and about the same from Ierapetra. It is located on the route from Agios Nikolaos to Ierapetra, crossing Mount Dikti to the south, or to Sitia by heading east on the coast road. To reach the monastery, you will ascend the 6 km winding road that diverges from the main road, offering spectacular landscapes flooded in silence.

 Most people come to Faneromeni Monastery on August 15 for the great feast of the Assumption,  but the cave Church is open to visitors all year round. If you want to discover the most important spiritual sites in eastern Crete, be sure to stop here! After visiting the monastery, you can relax on the nearby beach of Pachia Ammos or take a trip to the archaeological site of the Minoan fortress of Gournia.

 We hope the article has inspired you to add this trip to your vacation plans! And if you feel like finding more, we invite you to watch the exciting video report about the Pilgrimage to Faneromeni Monastery in our blog post!

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