Religious Monuments of Messara


Varsamonero Monastery in Vorizia
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The deserted monastery of Varsamonero is located about 53km southwest of Heraklion, at the southern slopes of Psiloritis Range. It was built in a panoramic area near Vorizia village, overlooking the plane of Messara.

Varsamonero monastery is one of the oldest in Crete, not operating since the 18th century, today belonging to the monastery of Vrontissi. During its peak it was an important center of script study and literature and had several smaller dependencies, among them being Vrontissi. Its former wealth is reflected by the frescoes, classified among the most important samples of the Venetian Crete.

Today only the central Venetian church of St. Fanourios survives. The church is three- aisled and has some very interesting decorations with bricks. The doors and the surrounding windows are embossed with gothic influences.

Originally the church consisted of the north aisle (before 1332) and was dedicated to Panagia Hodegetria (Virgin Mary), with frescoes depicting the 24 stanzas of the Akathist Hymn. Due to this aisle, the Venetians called the monastery Chiesa della Madonna di Varsamonero. The south aisle dedicated to St. John was built later and was richly decorated with striking scenes of the Crucifixion and the Epitaph. Attached to it, is the smaller aisle of St. Fanourios (celebr. August 27) that later became the patron saint of the monastery.

The church is very important for its very old murals, dating from the 14th and 15th century. They are representative of the great art that flourished in the Venetian Era throughout Crete and later reached its peak with the famous painter El Greco.

500m off the monastery there is the Byzantine church of the Holy Cross (Timios Stavros), with the old frescoes and the embossed window. The Historical Museum of Crete in Heraklion also houses the exceptional wooden iconostasis of the monastery.


  • 1332: A single aisled church dedicated to Panagia is erected (probably much earlier), known also as the Chiesa della Madonna di Varsamonero.
  • 1400-28: The south aisle dedicated to Saint John is built and is drawn by various artists.
  • 1426: The small aisle of St. Fanourios is added to the church, from which the current name of the monastery is taken.
  • 1431: Konstantinos Eirikos draws the aisle of St. Fanourios.
  • 18th Century: The monastery gets deserted after a long period of decline.
  • 1947: The archaeologist Nikolaos Platon starts the restoration of the monastery.

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Additional Info

  • Location: Heraklion Prefecture
  • Accessibility: Paved road

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