The fortified monastery of Agarathos is located 23km east of Heraklion in a wooded location at an altitude of 538m near Episkopi. The monastery, especially during the Venetian Era, was one of the richest in Crete owning several other monasteries in Heraklion and Lassithi prefectures. It is considered the first in the hierarchy of the monasteries of the island.
The name is taken after the plant Jerusalem Sage (Phlomis fruticosa), named agarathia in Cretan dialect. According to the tradition, below such a plant a monk found once the icon of Panagia (Virgin Mary) and he later built the church of Panagia on the same site. In front of the church you will see a pomegranate tree with a candle near its trunk. The pomegranate is said to be the initial plant of agarathia, which was turned miraculously to a tree.
The male Agarathos monastery is one of the oldest in Crete and we do not know the exact date of its establishment. During the Venetian Era, it was a very rich monastery, with most of its monks coming from Cythera Island (near Peloponnese).
Many great personalities have connected their names with Agarathos. Among them is Meletius Pigas (later Patriarch of Alexandria), Cyril Loukaris (later Ecumenical Patriarch), Yerasimos Paleokapas (bishop of Crete) and the scholar Joseph Vryennios. In the Ottoman period, Agarathos played an important role in the revolutionary movements against the Turks.
The church of the monastery is double-aisled, with one aisle dedicated to the Assumption (celebr. 15 August) and the other to Saint Menas (celebr. 11 November). There is a very old icon of the Virgin Mary. Visitors of the monastery can be hosted in the guesthouse and the dining room of the monastery and admire the library with the old manuscripts. Outside the monastery, there is the old church of St. Raphael.
- 1504: The sons of Matthew Kalergis, to whom the monastery belonged, grant Agarathos to the monk Nifon Notaras. Nifon turns the deserted monastery to a very rich coenobitic one, thus he is actually considered the founder of Agarathos.
- 1532: Agarathos is referred in a manuscript stored in the National Library of St Mark's in Venice.
- 1566: The ex-abbot of Agarathos, Silvestros, becomes Patriarch of Alexandria till 1590.
- 1583: The abbot Neophytos Patellaros curses the residents of the nearby village Founarous, as they caused major damage to the properties of the monastery. It is said that a boulder was then torn in two and flames came out. Since then the village is deserted.
- 1590: The former abbot Meletios Pigas becomes Patriarch of Alexandria till 1601, replacing Silvestros after his death.
- 1612: The former abbot of the monastery Cyril Loukaris becomes Patriarch of Constantinople till 1638, with some intermediate pauses.
- 1646: The abbot Athanasios Christoforos participates in the struggle of the Venetians and Cretans against the Turks. The Turkish Pasha Ahmet Kioproulis decides to destroy the monastery, but his friend bishop Neophytos Patelaris intervenes and changes Kioproulis’ mind. Athanasios leaves to Italy, taking several valuable objects with him.
- 1821: The monks of the monastery together with the Bishop of Hersonissos help at the preparations of the Revolution. The Turks occupy the monastery and set fire, slaughtering those monks who did not manage to escape.
- 1836: The monk Anthony Kalonas becomes bishop of Cythera and transfers the relics of the monastery (the ancient image of Orphan Panagia and numerous manuscripts) to Cythera.
- 1843: The Diocese of Hersonissos moves to the monastery of Agarathos.
- 1845: A mutual learning school starts operating for the children of the surrounding villages.
- 1856: By signing Chati Humayun, Christians are granted with more privileges. Repairing monasteries is no longer forbidden and Agarathos is extensively reconstructed.
- 1862: The bell tower of the church is built.
- 1883: The School of Christ is founded, later transferred to the Monastery of Christ in Sgourokefali village.
- 1893: A storm destroys the steeple of the church, which gets soon reconstructed.
- 1894: The new temple is built on the place of the older one and is inaugurated.
- 1896: The rebel Anthony Tryfitsos or Tryfopoulos uses Agarathos as a base against the Turks. The enraged Turks destroy the monastery, which gets later repaired.
- 1935: The monastery is declared as Preservable building.
- 1940: The church is rebuilt again.
- 1941-1944: During the German occupation, the monastery serves as a shelter for the locals.
- 1970: The abbot Cyril Chourdakis manages to get back the icon of the Virgin Mary and the old manuscripts from Cythera.