Saint John by

Kapetaniana

Saint John monastery by Kapetaniana
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In the current settlement of Agios Ioannis in Asterousia Range, which today is the holiday destination of the residents of the mountainous Kapetaniana, we find one of the most special monastic monuments of Crete, the monastery of Agios Ioannis (Saint John). The monastery functioned until the middle of the 20th century and hosted hermits in the cavernous cavities formed in the rock. The exterior area of the monastery has been formed with benches and flower beds.

The monastery's temple is located in the lowest cave of all and a wall has been built on the outside, forming a small courtyard. Outside the courtyard we find a monk's grave, while around we see the terraces that the monks used cultivate and some scattered ancient olive trees. Below the temple there is a modern building that was used as cells during the last years of the monastery's operation and today they are used as auxiliary spaces.

In caves above the temple there are the cells of monks. Inside, we can see carved surfaces and fireplaces. Among them we find a half-destroyed oven, while in the upper cells there is a carved cistern for the collection of water that drips from the roof of the cave, which is used as holy water. Next to it we find the place where the monks met, while in the last cell we see on the ground a large rectangular base, which was probably used as a tomb or cistern.

The site has been used since ancient times as an Asclepieion, as evidenced by the inscription at the entrance of the temple. The presence of water in the nearby spring of Goula, as well as the water dripping from the roof of the caves, obviously contributed to this. Until the end of the 20th century, many Cretans who suffered from a disease slept at night on the terraces inside the temple, believing that Saint John would heal them. This is considered to be the Christian continuation of the method of enkoimesis (induced sleep), which we find in the ancient Asclepieions, where patients were led to the incubatio to sleep, see Asclepius in their dream and get healed.

Of great interest are the frescoes of the temple, dating from 1360. On the outer wall of the church there are figures of saints in natural size, a rare phenomenon in Crete, both for the fresco on the outer wall and for these dimensions. On the outer wall we see Saints Cosmas and Damianos, who were doctors, and Saint Panteleimon, the patron saint of physicians; this is associated with the passage of the religion of Asclepius into the Christian religion, maintaining the healing tradition. Another element that we observe in the murals is the existence of many murals on the subject of death. We can see the sleep of Saint Ephrem the Syrian, the Crucifixion with the mourning of the Virgin Mary, the Archangels, Saint Peter, Deesis and Saint John at the gate, the Dormition of the Mother of God,i Saint Nikitas.

At the entrance we see an inscription that mentions the Emperor Paleologos (despite the period of Venetian rule) and mentions the existence of an Asclepieion in the past.

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Additional Info

  • Location: Heraklion Prefecture
  • Type: Church
  • Accessibility: Dirt track

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