Church of Saint John


Church of Saint John at Liliano
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Half a kilometer away from the small hamlet Liliano, very close to the airport of Kastelli, lies a treasure of the Cretan hinterland. This is the cemeterial church of Saint John the Forerunner (Agios Ioannis Rigologos) celebrating on the day of the Beheading of Saint John the Baptist (August 29).

This is an impressive religious and simultaneously architectural monument that is literally hidden in olive groves. Saint John at Liliano according to tradition was being built all day and at night it collapsed. Therefore, it was decided to replace water with milk which was given as a gift by the local shepherds and indeed the chapel was built stable.

The impressive temple dates back to around 12th-13th century AD. According to Stergios Spanakis, this is a three-aisled basilica of the second Byzantine period, of which the central nave is taller. The aisles communicate with arches supported by columns that have capitals of the Ionic order. The walls of the church are built from materials belonging to older buildings. Inside there is a staircase that led to a small pulpit, which is the only sample in a medieval church in Crete. Its existence, combined with a pillar on the west wall, which probably supported a sanctuary, has been linked to the Catholic order of Dominican monks.

Most importantly, Saint John is the last sample church in Crete that was built under the standards of the old basilicas. On the outer side of the church, there are embedded inscriptions of the Roman era, some of the most important in Crete. Inside no frescoes survive. There were many very important icons, which all were stolen several years ago. The monument still remains neglected by the Greek State.

It is noteworthy to mention that during the German occupation, because of its spaciousness and quality of construction, the Germans used it as a warehouse. There are still some inscriptions in German with a typical Nazi font.

Today almost no one knows the existence of this important monument which is why you will never see any guests. There is a nice story with the quinine of Saint John, as it was called, for this chapel. According to traditions, the very strong plaster of the church swelled from excessive moisture and produced some white material, like cotton, only on the feast day of the temple. This material, like dust, was gathered by putting paper sheets on the floor. The locals used this dust, the quinine of Saint John, by drinking that with water, for healing diseases.

Even today there are at Liliano or the surrounding villages of Kastelli people who in their youth were treated by incurable illnesses miraculously thanks to this wonderful quinine. The quinine came out last time in the 70s.

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Additional Info

  • Location: Heraklion Prefecture
  • Type: Church
  • Peak Period: Venetian Era (1204 AD - 1669 AD)
  • Accessibility: Paved road

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