The Museum of Byzantine Icons and Relics of the Archdiocese of Crete is located in the Venetian church of Saint Catherine of Sinai, in the center of Heraklion and next to the cathedral of Saint Minas. The 16th century church was the main temple of the monastery the dependency of Saint Catherine of Sinai in Heraklion, which was established in the 10th century.
The church belongs to an architectural variant of the type of cross-roofed church in which not only the transverse arch, but also the sanctuary area are housed lower than the longitudinal arch. To the northeast it communicates with the domed chapel of the Holy Ten Martyrs (17th century).
It is not a coincidence that this specific temple was chosen for the museum, as the place is directly connected with arts and culture: Here operated, during the Venetian period, a great school where ancient Greek writers, philosophy, theology and painting were taught. Some of the greatest Cretans of culture were educated here, among them Vitsentzos Kornaros, Georgios Hortatzis and, perhaps, El Greco .That time flourished the famous Cretan School of Iconography which ’s main representatives were Michael Damaskinos, El Greco, George Klontzas, Theofanis Kris. Note that Candia (current Heraklion) in 1600 housed 200 painters, a large number in proportion to its 20000 residents.
After the conquest of Crete by the Turks, this course of culture was violently interrupted and the building was converted to the mosque Zulfikar Ali. It operated until 1922, because in 1920 the church of Saint Minas bought it and established an ecclesiastical museum. Since 1967 the building houses the most important exhibition of Byzantine Icons in Crete, with works of the most celebrated painters of that time (e.g. Michael Damaskinos) and religious relics, manuscripts, vestments and frescoes of the period 14th to 19th century. The temple and the museum were renovated in 2010.
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