It has been approximately 400 years since the Church of Ss. Peter and Paul celebrated a Divine Liturgy in Herakleion, Crete. Tonight a Great Vespers was served by Archbishop Eirinaios of Crete and tomorrow he will celebrate the Divine Liturgy to mark its restoration after all these centuries.
The Church of Ss. Peter and Paul was built in the first years of Venetian rule as the katholikon in the Dominican order monastery (Domenicani Predicatori). It is one of the oldest examples of 12th century Dominican architecture, both in Greece and the rest of Europe.
In Venetian times the church was used as a burial site for Candia dignitaries, but in the very first years of Ottoman rule was converted into a mosque dedicated to the memory of Sultan Ibrahim.
It is situated next to the sea wall, between the Venetian port and the Dermatas Gate, on what is now Sofoklis Venizelou Avenue, and is currently being restored for use as a feast day church.
Ss. Peter and Paul was originally a single nave church with a timber roof and a slightly projecting transverse nave in front of the sacristy. This was an oblong building covered by two low groin vaults and flanked by two rectangular chapels or pastophoria. Rather than forming a semi-circular sanctuary, the east end was square and decorated with a large tripartite opening covering one side.
By the 15th century four chapels had been added to the south side of the church, one of which still contains the only example of 15th century wall painting found in Heraklion. Burials have been found in all four chapels, one of which was in a marble relief tomb. The southwest chapel was added in the 14th century, and was so big that it had an entrance on the south side of the original chapel.
The church is one of the oldest monuments of its type. It is of wider interest in European terms, as regards both the course of 13th century architecture and its presence in Greece and the rest of the continent.
The two storey design of the original sanctuary chapels is a further distinctive feature unique among monuments of its type. On Crete, the Church of Ss. Peter and Paul served as a model for the Church of St. Nicholas in Chania, built in the late 13th or early 14th century.
The numerous unique features of the monument uncovered during restoration work reveal similarities with precisely contemporary 13th century buildings of the same architectural form at Silvanes, Venzone and Rieti in France and Italy.
Throughout the period of Venetian rule, distinguished political leaders and prelates from Candia were buried at the church, both in the interior and by the outside walls. In Volume II of his monumental work “Monumenti Veneti nell isola di Creta”, G. Gerola mentions that it was the burial place of Dukes of Crete Markos Grandonikos (1331), Ioannis Morosini (1338), Marinos Grimani (1348) and Philippos Dorio (1357).
At the very beginning of Turkish rule Ss. Peter and Paul was converted into a mosque dedicated to the memory of Sultan Ibrahim, and a minaret was added to the southwest corner.
Other features dating to the Ottoman period, uncovered during restoration work, were the mihrab (prayer niche), pebbled floors and a clay furnace.
It would appear that the daring scale of the monument’s architecture (54m long, 15m wide, with a 12m central nave) and the lack of any exterior buttresses on the north and south walls, led to its partial collapse in three different earthquakes, in the early 14th, early 16th and 18th centuries. The last of these led to the collapse of: 1) the roof; 2) the greater part of the north wall; 3) the 14th century chapel in the northeast; 4) the 15th century chapel in the southwest; 5) the east groin vault and part of the rose window; 6) the northwest buttress pier; and 7) the upper section of the west wall.
Significant remnants of earlier phases in the town’s history have been uncovered around the monastery, with its imposing katholikon and adjoining buildings, in the surrounding area known as Kastella. These derive from the period of Arab rule, the second Byzantine period and the early years of Venetian rule. The area is now named after a sultana factory that stood on the site before the antiquities were discovered. Both the factory and the entertainment venue that succeeded it were called “Kastella”.
The church was bought as exchangeable estate by the Parish of St. Dimitrios by the Port, for use as a church. The Ministry of Culture then decided that services should only be held there on feast days, and that it should remain a visitors’ monument. Over recent decades the main church and adjoining buildings have undergone restoration, while the surrounding area is being landscaped as an archaeological site linked to the Venetian monastery.
The internal restoration of the Church was finished and the Mayor of the City announced that it will be open to visit during the Christmas period.
The video here below was broadcasted by a local TV channel and you can see the internal of the Church today.
Source 1 and 2