The Monastery of St. Anthony in Apezanes or Apezana is built on a rocky plateau of Asterousia Mountains, at an altitude of 440m, approximately 63km south of Heraklion. From there starts a short valley that leads from Antiskari village to the beachfront of Platia Peramata.
The monastery can be accessed via a dirt road, either from Plora village or through the road that leads to Kala Limania from Pompia. In both cases, you’ll meet relevant signs to Apezanes.
The monastery serves as a male monastery and is one of the oldest in Crete. It was built according to fortress architecture, although its fort's character has undergone major changes due to the alterations of the early 20th century. The fort was rectangular and was formed by the external walls of the complex buildings. Also, it was protected by three towers with cannons and, therefore it was called Toplou monastery by the Turks (top = cannon), just as the Toplou Monastery in Sitia.
The central chruch is built located on the edge of the building complex and is a thee – aisled church, built on the site of an older church of St. Anthony. The three aisles are dedicated to St. Anthony (celebr. January 17), the Transfiguration (August 6) and the Three Hierarchs (January 30). The magnificent carved iconostasis of the church reflects the former wealth of the monastery. An icon on it is said to belong to El Greco, the most famous Greek painter of the Renaissance. Moreover, the monastery hosts the icon of St. Anthony, a work of Michael Damaskinos, the second most famous Cretan religious painter, after El Greco.
Beside the church you’ll see the imposing two-story abbey, which was originally built to house the Diocese of Arcadia, but never did. Moreover, around you can see the monks' cells, the guest house, the refectory and the 25m deep well watering Apezana. The monastery hosts precious religious relics such as old vestments, gold and silver crosses, gospels, icons, relics of saints, etc.
The Abbey was the largest antipope center of Crete during the Venetian period. It served as an important center of literature and theology, but during the Ottoman Era it turned to a humble rural monastery. Around the monastery you will see a small rural settlement which grew along with the monastery. Moreover, it is linked with the founding of Apanosifis Monastery.
The tradition of Apezana founding
According to the tradition, the monastery was founded by four hermits of St. Anthony in Agiofarago, the church of which still survives in the gorge and belongs to the monastery of Odigitria. The hermits were the brothers Markos, Leon, Antonios and Maria Papadopoulos, who came from a rich family of Candia.
Because of the frequent pirate raids in the coastal areas of Crete, in 1443 the monks decided to leave Agiofarago and seek for a safer place to settle. Thus, they loaded the icon of St. Anthony (kept today in the monastery) on a mule and began wandering around Messara plain.
When they arrived at Kapariana (next to Mires), a wealthy Turk who was blind and disabled from birth, saw a light. He then asked the monks to stay in his mansion and if he was cured by St. Anthony, we would grant them land for building of the monastery.
Indeed, next morning, the Turk was cured and they all started a journey to his fields. The Turk, who was still disabled, led them on horseback to the current location of the monastery. When they reached the point where the gate of the monastery is located, the Turk fell off the mule and he stood up, miraculously.
The monks wanted to continue exploring the area, but the horse that bore the icon of Saint Anthony stopped at the point where the church is built today. The monks were unable to move the mule, thus they decided to spend the night there. During sleeping, they dreamed Saint Anthony, who asked them to build the church at this point.
Indeed, the monks decided to start building the monastery, but they first had to find water in that dry area. They began to dig a well, but the ground was stony, thus digging well was almost impossible. When they rested for a while, they dreamed Saint Anthony again. He told them that they would find 3 boulders next to the well. If they threw the biggest in it, then water would come out immediately. Indeed, they moved the stone and water came out for 40 days. Then it fell to its present level in the well.
- 1443: The monks of Agiofarago Markos, Antonios, Leon and Maria Papadopoulos found the monastery of Apezana, building a small single-aisled church.
- 1458: The heyday of the monastery starts, as the monastery inherits ¼ of the rich property of Markos Papadopoulos.
- 1566: The Monastery of St. Anthony Apezonon is mentioned by John Doryanos.
- 1581: The Patriarch of Alexandria, Meletios Pigas mentions the monastery of Apezanes.
- 1626: Meletios Syrigos, well known for his antipope movements, is elected as abbot.
- Ottoman Era: A written order of the Sultan protects the monastery. It owns a number of shares and properties in Crete and in Izmir.
- 1837: The new three-aisled church of the monastery is inaugurated on the site of the older one.
- 1838: The throne and the iconostasis of the new church are built.
- 1950: The monastery declines