June 23, 2021

Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Kissos of Rethymno, Crete

Perched on the southwestern foothills of Mount Kentros with its 100 springs, the Monastery of the Holy Spirit is one of those religious monuments that you cannot visit only once.

A short distance from the settlement of Kissos, in the former province of Agios Vasilios, it dominates at an imposing altitude of 640 meters and when you pass through its gate you feel that you are in heaven on earth, due to its well-kept gardens and the beautiful image it presents. However, it is not only its external image that makes its space special but also its history that was bright and luminous.

The lawyer and scholar Michalis M. Papadakis wrote: "The Monastery of the Holy Spirit was famous all the years of Turkish slavery because it was the bright refuge of Greek Christian education and learning, the national home, which kept the flame of the faith alive.

A secret school in the beginning, a seminary later, the only provincial learning center under Bishop Nikodemos and later, during Eumenios, the first civilized boarding school in Crete. Also a transitional seat of Bishop Nikodemos of Lampis and Sfakion and a permanent seat of Bishop Eumenios."

Its role in the field of education has been extremely important and memorable.

The Foundation of the Monastery

Regarding the founding of the Monastery, the tradition speaks of Archontissa Maria or Aegidou Maria, a name given to her because of the huge herd of goats that she owned. This woman, who was of Byzantine origin, is said to have lived around the 13th or 14th century and to have founded the Monastery.

Her fortune was large and she had not made her own family, so she founded the Monastery in her real estate district and endowed it, turning it into a spiritual center with her living as a nun in it. In fact, it is said that she died there and was buried there.

It is certain, based on the Venetian archives, that the Sacred Monastery of the Holy Spirit existed and operated during the last years of the Venetian occupation in Crete and pre-dated the years 1635 and 1640 when the relevant documents were written.

The Destruction of the Monastery

When Crete was occupied by the Ottomans, the Monastery continued to exist, but on June 15, 1821, the bloodthirsty Mustafa the Mad (Deli Mustafa) and the Ampadiotes Turks who followed him completely destroyed the Monastery. In fact, it is the first Monastery to be set on fire by Turkish troops during the long period of the Cretan revolutions.

It is said that its condition was such that they turned it into an amorphous pile of ruins while slaughtering its monks, specifically the Abbot and four other monks.

The Christians from Kissos, as soon as the Turks left the Monastery, found the dead monks and dug a grave for them in its courtyard, two meters east of the Holy Bema, where they were buried. Today we see their bones in a special showcase inside the church of the Monastery of the Holy Spirit honoring its Holy Five Fathers every year on June 15.

The only building that survived then was the two-aisled church dedicated to Saint Nicholas and the Holy Spirit, and it was very damaged. Its damages were revealed when the Office of Byzantine Antiquities, in early 1997, removed the exterior coatings and showed huge cracks, deterioration of building materials from overheating and blackness from burning.

After the Monastery was set on fire, its property passed into the hands of the Turks, while what was left of it was annexed as a Metochion to the Preveli Monastery.

Restoration as a School
In 1836 a pile of ruins remained and the then Bishop Nikodemos of Lampi and Sfakion tried to resurrect it by founding the first and only school in the province that became known as the School of the Holy Spirit. In 1870 the school was promoted to the Greek School of Saint Basil.

In 1887, Bishop Eumenios Xiroudakis moved his headquarters from Lampi, where there was no security due to the Turks, to the Monastery of the Holy Spirit and with his own money began in 1894 to build the beautiful Diocese on the site of the Monastery.

In the area of the Monastery, in addition to the buildings for the needs of the School there was a bakery, kitchen, restaurant for students and other structures that served its needs.

Restoration of the Monastery
In 1979 the Ministry of Culture declared as historic the total of the buildings of the Monastery of the Holy Spirit.

Since then, a great effort was started by the Cultural Association of Kissos and the Metropolitan of Lampi and Sfakion for the reopening of the Monastery with the renovation of the church and the buildings around it.

The consecration of the katholikon of the Monastery of the Holy Spirit took place in May 2007. It should be noted that the aisle of the church dedicated to Saint Nicholas is considered older than that of the Holy Spirit and dates from the 13th century.

In 2011 the Sacred Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Kissos officially acquired, after almost 200 years, its first Abbot, the Most Venerable Archimandrite Bartholomew Xeroudakis, from Sellia, a man who has taken care to turn the isolated Monastery into a pilgrimage site.

Note that in the surrounding area of the Monastery there is a monument to the fallen in honor of the two hundred volunteer fighters who fell heroically fighting the Turks on December 5, 1868. It was the military corps of Demetrios Petropoulakis, who came to Crete to help the rebellious Cretans.

Also in a prominent position in the courtyard dominates a beautiful fountain.