The church of Panagia Antifonitria is located in the village Miriokefala, 29km south of Rethymno and was the central temple of a small monastery The monastery does not operate today and is one of the oldest monasteries in Crete, as according to the will of Saint John the Hermit it was founded around 1020 and was his base for several years. Saint John Xenos or Hermit is a local saint, well known for establishing several small monasteries in West Crete, such as Azogyres monastery and Katholiko monastery.
In the center of the courtyard you will find the impressive cruciform church with dome, dedicated to the Nativity of Mary, celebrating on September 8, surrounded by auxilliary builidings of the 18th and 19th centuries. The arch of the temple has a three-lobed window, while there is also a beautiful bell tower. After the conquest of Crete by the Venetians, the monastery flourished and declined in the Turkish Era. Today the temple is the parish church of Miriokefala village.
The interior is decorated with murals of three layers that were revealed under the plasters. The oldest layer dates to about 1020 and includes the full body of Jesus in the dome, the angels and the Virgin Mary in the drum, the hierarchs in the half-cylinder of the arch, the evangelists in the drums of the side extensions and Saints Nicholas and George in the east wall of the side extensions. The second layer (early 13th century) includes the co-officiating hierarchs in the conch, the Vaiforos, the Betrayal, the Burial and the Descent into Hades in the arch and the western side extension. The third layer (14th century) includes the Dormition of the Virgin Mary and Deesis in the blind arches of the narthex.
It is said that Saint John the Hermit brought all ecclesiastical equipment (utensils, icons, etc.) to the monastery from Constantinople, but nothing has survived now. The small exhibition of the temple, includes the "miraculous" icon of the Virgin Mary of the 18th century, a gospel (1818), a mug (1829), a thymiaton (incense burner- 1854), crosses (from 1886), manuscripts (from 1856), etc.
The bush and the icon of Panagia
It is said that once Saint John the Hermit wandered around Miriokefala and came across and a huge bramble on his way. He set fire in order to open the way, but he suddenly heard a voice "Here I am!". He then found the icon of the Panagia, which was hidden there. Thus, Saint John founded the monastery of Panagia (Virgin Mary). He named that Antifonitria (i.e. shouting), because she was calling "here I am." Locals believe that this miraculous icon is that one stored in the monastery today, but the current one is newer (18th century).
Also, according to tradition, the temple is small because this was the will of the Virgin Mary, who showed it in a miraculous way. So when an attempt was made to expand the temple, every morning the workers found the part of the temple that they had demolished earlier, built in the former position.
- 1010-1020: St. John Xenos or Hermit founds the monastery of Panagia Antifonitria in Miriokefala.
- 1030: St John brings some valuable relics from Constantinople, after getting authorization by the Byzantine Emperor and the Patriarch.
- 1770: The Turks destroy the monastery.
- 1830: The abbot of the monastery in Roustika, Hadji Matheos, restores the monastery of Panagia.
- 1900: The monastery stops its operation.
- 1970: The frescoes of the monastery are revealed, hidden under wall plaster and whitewash!