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Katholiko Monastery

Place description

The Katholiko Monastery, nestled in the mountainous region of Arkoudovounia, lies 20km east of Chania, near Cape Akrotiri or Meleha’s northern shores. Accessible through a stepped cobblestone path that originates from the Gouverneto Monastery, the journey takes you past the Saint Anthony Church and the Cave of Panagia Arkoudiotissa, culminating at Katholiko. Continue along the trail, and you will find yourself at a charming fjord with azure waters, home to the remnants of the monastery’s old harbour.

The origins of the monastery can be traced back to the 11th-century cave where Saint John the Hermit, or Xenos, drew his last breath. Post his demise, this secluded area, known as Arkoudovounia, evolved into one of Crete’s key ascetic hubs. The cave was transformed into a temple, and the adjoining spaces provided refuge to hermits, with monk cells being added later on.

In the 17th century, under Jeremiah Tzagarolo’s supervision and guided by Sebastiano Serlio’s architectural designs, the cave-front area underwent a major transformation, giving the monastic complex its present grandeur. You can still see the decayed hermit cells, the bell tower, and the magnificent bridge spanning the gorge’s river, forming a large square to connect the two sides. At the bridge’s base, you can find vast vaulted storage spaces, flanked by a two-story building and a string of vaulted rooms designed to accommodate pilgrims.

Saint Ioannis’ worship proliferated so much in the broader Chania area that the 1637 census records one of the largest incomes derived from pilgrims. This is particularly noteworthy considering the arduous trek the visitors had to endure to reach Katholiko. However, as the pirates targeted Crete’s shores, fear set in, the monastery was abandoned, and the monks retreated to the safer confines of the Gouverneto Monastery. As per legend, a large rock resembling a ship near the gorge’s exit is said to be a petrified pirate ship, a result of the Katholiko abbot’s curse.

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