Vrontissi monastery is located 49km southwest of Heraklion, near Vorizia Gorge, between the villages Zaros and Vorizia. The area has panoramic views to Vorizia village and the plane of Messara. The monastery is dedicated to Saint Anthony and is one of the oldest monasteries in Crete.
Its name derives probably from its founder, but the exact date of its erection has not been confirmed yet. Originally it was a dependency of the nearby monastery of Valsamonero, but later it became so rich that evolved into one of the greatest monastic centers of Crete, far exceeding in wealth its parent monastery.
Tradition says that Michael Damaskinos and El Greco, the most important representatives of the Cretan School of Iconography, have lived and worked in Vrontissi. Indeed, six icons of Damaskinos that are today exhibited at the Museum of St. Catherine in Heraklion were formerly housed in Vrontissi. The frescoes that have survived in the church date back in the 14th century show influences from the Renaissance and highlight the quality of artistic expression that had developed there.
The church is a two-aisled church dedicated to St. Anthony (celebr. 17 January) and St. Thomas (celebr. first Sunday after Easter). The bell tower is an independent structure built with Venetian architecture. Some frescoes are preserved in the south aisle: the Supper at Emmaus, the Apostles, Minologia and Saint Symeon holding baby Jesus at his hands. In the church you will see the icon of Ambelos, dating back in the 16th century, drawn by the Cretan artist Angelo.
The monastery was fortified, but the walls were demolished for the sake of modernization. The most impressive building that reflects the bygone glory of the monastery is the imposing fountain of the 15th century depicting Adam and Eve. At their feet there are 4 figures with flowing water from their mouths, which symbolize the 4 rivers of Eden. The fountain is the most beautiful provincial sample of fountains in Crete. The Turks used to call Vrondisi as Santrivanli Monastir, i.e. Fountain Monastery.
Today the monastery houses the International Village of Cretan Youth.
- 961-1204: Vrontissi monastery is founded as a dependency of Varsamonero monastery.
- 1400: Vrontissi is firstly mentioned in a document.
- 1500: Varsamonero declines while the Vrontissi flourishes.
- 1323: There are 4 priests named Vrontissis in Candia. Perhaps, the name of the monastery comes from a namesake founder.
- 1645: After the conquest of Crete by the Turks, the monks of Arkadi Monastery find shelter in Vrontissi.
- 1800: The six icons of Damaskinos are moved to St. Minas in Heraklion by the Bishop Gerasimos. Today, they are exhibited at the Museum of St. Catherine of Sina, on the side of Agios Minas church.
- 1866: During the revolution of 1866-69, the monastery offers shelter to Michael Korakas, the leader of the local rebels, and the Revolution starts from here. The Turks slaughter 4 monks, destroy the monastery and Sadia Aga turns it into a sheep paddock! The library with the ancient manuscripts and most of the temple paintings are destroyed.
- 1878: The monastery is reused by the rebels.
- 1941-44: Vrontissi houses the guerillas fighting against the Germans.
- 1943: The monastery witnesses the slaughter and leveling of Vorizia (27 August). Today, from the monastery you will see the village Vorizia and the abandoned settlement of New Vorizia. New Vorizia was built by the state to house the survivors, but eventually the residents rebuilt their destroyed village.
- 1992: Extensive repairs and restorations of the monastery start.