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Byzantine Collection of St Catherine

  • Byzantine Collection of St Catherine


About Byzantine Collection of St Catherine

The Archdiocese of Crete’s Museum of Byzantine Icons and Relics is situated in the Venetian church of Saint Catherine of Sinai, in the heart of Heraklion and adjacent to the Saint Minas Cathedral. This 16th-century church served as the primary temple for the monastery, which was a dependency of Saint Catherine of Sinai in Heraklion and was founded in the 10th century.

The church’s architecture is a variant of the cross-roofed church style, where not only the transverse arch but also the sanctuary area are positioned lower than the longitudinal arch. It connects to the domed chapel of the Holy Ten Martyrs (17th century) in the northeast.

The choice of this particular temple for the museum is no accident, as it has a strong connection to art and culture. During the Venetian period, a prestigious school operated here, teaching ancient Greek literature, philosophy, theology, and painting. Notable Cretan cultural figures such as Vitsentzos Kornaros, Georgios Hortatzis, and possibly El Greco were educated here. This period also saw the flourishing of the renowned Cretan School of Iconography, with key figures like Michael Damaskinos, El Greco, George Klontzas, and Theofanis Kris. It is worth noting that in 1600, Candia (present-day Heraklion) was home to 200 painters, a significant number considering its population of 20,000 residents.

Following the Turkish conquest of Crete, this cultural trajectory was violently disrupted, and the building was transformed into the Zulfikar Ali mosque. It remained in operation until 1922 when the Saint Minas Church purchased it and established an ecclesiastical museum. Since 1967, the building has housed Crete’s most important exhibition of Byzantine Icons, featuring works by renowned painters such as Michael Damaskinos and showcasing religious relics, manuscripts, vestments, and frescoes from the 14th to 19th centuries. The temple and museum underwent renovation in 2010.

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  • Museum

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