The Monastery of Aghia Irini (Santa Irene) is built at an altitude of 260m at the foot of Mount Vrisinas, about 5km south of Rethymnon. It operates as a nunnery and is one of the oldest monasteries in Crete, built before 1362.
Until 1990, when the restoration works started, Agia Irini was a jumble of dilapidated buildings. Today, it is regarded as one of the most beautiful monasteries of the island, as it was restored with great care and in accordance with the original monastic architecture of its bygone era. Indeed, it has been awarded a European award for cultural heritage for conserving its architecture.
The monastery looks like a fortress from far. In the center of its enclosure, there is the quite new church of Saint Irene, and around it there are the nuns' cells, the old olive mill, the chapel of Raphael, Nicholas and Irene, the small museum of the monastery, the refectory, workshops for painting, embroidery and sewing. Outside the courtyard you’ll see the old three-aisled church of St. Irene, St. Catherine and St. Euphemia, which has not been restored yet.
- 961-1204: The Monastery of St. Irene is founded near Rethymnon.
- 1362: A Venetian document testifies the existence of the monastery of Agia Irini near Rethymnon.
- 1821: After the revolution of 1821, the monastery starts declining
- 1844: The management of the monastery is taken by the Schools Commission, which takes care for all its needs.
- 1866: The monastery is granted to the monastery of Halevi and suffers great damage from the Turks.
- 1870: The monastery is managed by the local Christians.
- 1871: The portable icon of St. Irene is painted by John Stathakis.
- 1895: The Bishop Ierotheos Praoudakis or Bragoudakis founds a Christian school.
- 1897: During the last revolution of 1897-8, the Turks persecute the director of the school and burn the monastery. The monastery gets deserted for a century.
- 1900: The ruined abbey is formally declared as soluble (terminating its operation).
- 1903: Santa Irene is granted to the monastery of Arsani.
- 1925: The lands of the abbey are granted to Greek veterans.
- 1989: Bishop Theodoros Tzedakis starts the restoration of the monastery.
- 1991: Panagia Chalevi Monastery becomes a dependency of Agia Irini.
- 1994: The chapel of the martyrs Raphael, Nicholas and Irene is inaugurated.
- 1995: The restored monastery is awarded with the annual European Union prize for cultural heritage, Europa Nostra Award, due to its careful restoration.