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Agarathos Monastery

Place description

Agarathos Monastery, a fortified complex, is situated 23km east of Heraklion in a forested area at an altitude of 538m near Episkopi. Particularly during the Venetian Era, the monastery was among the wealthiest in Crete, possessing several other monasteries in Heraklion and Lassithi prefectures. It is regarded as the highest-ranking monastery on the island.

The name Agarathos is derived from the Cretan dialect word for Jerusalem Sage (Phlomis fruticosa), agarathia. Legend has it that a monk discovered the icon of Panagia (Virgin Mary) beneath such a plant, and later constructed the church of Panagia at the same location. A pomegranate tree with a candle near its trunk can be seen in front of the church, believed to be the original agarathia plant that miraculously transformed into a tree.

Agarathos Monastery, one of the oldest male monasteries in Crete, has an uncertain founding date. During the Venetian Era, it was an affluent monastery, with the majority of its monks hailing from Cythera Island (near Peloponnese).

Several notable figures have been associated with Agarathos, including Meletius Pigas (later Patriarch of Alexandria), Cyril Loukaris (later Ecumenical Patriarch), Yerasimos Paleokapas (bishop of Crete), and scholar Joseph Vryennios. In the Ottoman period, the monastery played a significant role in the revolutionary movements against the Turks.

The monastery’s church is double-aisled, with one aisle dedicated to the Assumption (celebrated on 15 August) and the other to Saint Menas (celebrated on 11 November). It houses a very old icon of the Virgin Mary. Visitors can stay in the monastery’s guesthouse and dining room, and admire the library’s ancient manuscripts. The old church of St. Raphael is located outside the monastery.

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