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The History of the Monastery
There are strong indications that the first core of the Monastery was organized on the area of the Monastery of Saint John the Baptist or Kato Monastiri (the lower monastery), during the II Byzantine period of Crete, around the 10th or the beginning of the 11th century, when many monasteries were established on the south coast of Crete. The oldest date related to the monastery is 1594, and it is engraved on a bell of the monastery. The monastery was probably founded during the Venetian occupation by a feudal lord known as Prevelis. When in 1649 the Turks occupied Crete, they destroyed numerous church establishments, among them the monastery of Preveli.
The monastery was for three centuries the most important center due to its leading role in the local society of Saint Vassilios and Sfakia provinces, where due to the landscaping territory the Turkish occupation force allowed a peculiar system of political tolerance and a limited state of freedom. The Monastery of Preveli is a religious center and consequently the place of gathering and social contact of the population.
The monks of the Monastery, usually selected and prestigious, will help, brief and spiritually lead the population, as the church possesses a complete network of gathering and infiltration of information. The Monastery is looking after and shelters people, individuals or groups, who are looking for a secure hideout and /or a launching point to the unconquered mountains of southern Crete.
On May 25, 1821, Abbot Melchissedek Tsouderos with a group of rebels hoisted the Greek flag on the hills overlooking the village of Rodakino. The Abbot became member of the secret revolutionary organization Filiki Etaireia and is the main leading personality in the revolutionary events of 1821 on Crete, which actually emerged from the Monastery. The valiant and patriotic Abbot organized, equipped and financed the first rebel units against the conquerors. As a reprisal, the Turks destroyed the monastery of Preveli; however, the Abbot managed to rescue the monks in time. Melhissedek's force, composed of the monastery monks and civilians, participated in the various battles taking place in West Crete. Melhissedek was finally injured in an unlucky battle near Polemarchi village of Kissamos on February 5, 1823, and died during his transfer to village Platania where he was buried.
The same patriotic policy will be followed up for the years to come. As it was usually the case with orthodox monasteries, some sort of teaching school existed quite early, which the tradition calls "The secret school". Since 1831, by the initiative of Lambis Bishop Nikodimus, the Monastery of Preveli is assigning more and more funds for the maintenance and functions of the area schools, as well as for the educational foundations of the Greeks under the auspices of the Oecumenical Patriarchate. Moreover, the monastery was an arts center during the dark years of the Turkish occupation. We note that a group of icons was made by local and foreign painters, who continue till the half of the 19th century at the domains of painting and wood carving the good tradition of the early Cretan School in a satisfactory level, contrary to the challenging views expressed.
The monastery was capable to recover fast from the disasters and it was constantly focused in the national cause of freedom. During the Second Revolution against the Ottoman Empire (1866-1869), once again the Monastery of Preveli, under the Abbot Agathangelos Papavassiliou (1864- 1871) fulfilled its national duty. It undertook to supply the needs of Rethymnon's Revolutionary Committee which was housed in Arkadi and it participated in the ongoing struggle through the person of Michael Tsouderos. A group of fourteen brothers from the Monastery , headed by the chief monk Athanassios Mariolakis, with the miraculous Cross of Ephraim - held by the priest Daniel - as its ensign, took an active part in the battle which was fought in Akonia by the foot of Mountain Vryssinas. The holocaust of the monks in Arkadi Monastery in November 1866 did not discourage Abbot Agathangelos. The accommodation and daily supply of almost two hundred rebels continued. In 1867 rebels from neighbouring villages and the brethren of the Monastery under monk Athanassios Mariolakis prevented the Turkish army from infiltrating the region. Finally, on July 7,1867 Resit Pasha with 8,000 soldiers set fire to the Lower Monastery and its farms in the neighbouring villages. The Rear Monastery was saved on the last moment and continued its active role until the end of revolution in 1869.
Again the destroyed monastery was reorganized, the church of St. John the Baptist was renovated and the farming installations and the cells were reconstructed. The successor of Agathangelos as Abbot Kallinikos the First (Spitadakis) (1870-1892) arranged for the constructions of a large new olive oil mill and completed the restoration of the Monastery. In 1878 another revolution was outbroken and once more the Monastery took part with the Abbot himself in the front line. The Rear Monastery functioned as the rebels' headquarters and supplied their needs. On this time, the legendary ship "Panellinion", under its brave Captain Nicolaos Soumelis, managed to moor itself at the nearby mouth of the river, at Limni, bringing guns and supplies for the refugees. The result of this Revolution was granting of adequate privileges to the Christians of Crete.
From 1893 till 1916 Neilos Volanakis (Neilos the Second) served as Abbot of the Monastery. The School of the Holy Spirit was upgraded to the status of a college and has played a very important educational role ever since.
During the revolution of the so- called "Political Change -over Committee" the Monastery of Preveli became once more a center of revolt and sheltered all the fugitives who sought safety and accommodation. On April 10, 1896, a force from the Monastery, under the chieftain monk Manassis Papadakis was involved in a victorious battle against the Turks in Sellia which resulted in the burning of the Monastery's farms in Koxare. Manassis and his men were also involved in battles in Asomatos and Fotinos.
Considering that the Cretan problem was solved, the population of the province of Saint Vassilios were summoned to assemble in the monastery of Preveli on August 25, 1896, in order to express their gratitude for what the monastery had done in the national struggle. One more revolutionary activity brought about the final solution of the Cretan problem and the granting of autonomy under Prince George of Greece.
In 1912, on the Balkan Wars, a number of monks had been voluntarily engaged in battles which took place in Epirus - Northern Greece, fighting for the liberation of these areas as well from the Turks.
During the years that followed the liberation of Crete and mainly after the union with mother Greece in 1913, the Monastery of Preveli at last returned to its spiritual and social role.
The role of the Monastery in the World War II.
The events of the heroic battle of Crete in May 1941 are well known, when the Germans forces met fierce opposition from the Allied Armies and the people of the island. The Monastery of Preveli, desiring to be faithful to its traditions and having no other way to give help, arranged on a daily basis supplies for the Allied army and the locals during the battle in Perivolia, on the outskirts of Rethymnon. However, the seizure of Maleme airport in Chania and the advance of the German forces throughout Crete resulted in the evacuation of most of the Allied troops and the departure of the remnants of the Greek Army to the Middle East. Nevertheless a large number of English, New Zealand and Australian soldiers remained on the island because they had no means of getting away. Although the occupying forces ordered very harsh reprisals against the local population if they provided shelter to these remaining Allied troops, the Monastery of Preveli and the neighbouring villages became for many of them a place of safe shelter and a point from which they could escape. The monks and the local people organized themselves into groups to guard the area, to care for and protect the Allied soldiers who were dispersed in hideouts known only to the locals, where it was not possible for the Germans to track them down, even after constant searching. Immediately a committee was formed from the inhabitants of the neighbouring villages under the chairmanship of Abbot Agathangelos Lagouvardos to deal secretly with the problems and the expenses of safeguarding the soldiers and that committee continued its work right till the end of the occupation of Greece.
A group of Australian soldiers attempted and managed successfully to make contact with a British submarine and in circumstances which have become almost legendary they were able to escape to the Middle East. Two rescue missions were organized by submarine from Limni, but the second was brought to the attention of the Germans who imposed serious repercussions. Abbot Agathangelos was forced to disappear from the Monastery and soldiers arrived in the Lower Monastery, but were seen in time by the monks who promptly evacuated the place.
The Germans removed all the goods that were stocked there and the sheep and transported them to Rethymnon. They destroyed the furniture and the vestments of the monks and caused serious damages to the buildings. Wine barrels, the jars in which the olive oil was stocked, tools, even kitchenware as well the reception rooms and the accommodation for pilgrims and the monks themselves were destroyed. Once again the rich Lower Monastery was devastated.
Some of the German soldiers moved on the Rear Monastery. There they summoned the monks into a cell and exercised intense pressure. They removed from the Monastery buildings various goods and furnishings and from the church they took that most precious relic, the miraculous Cross of Ephraim Prevelis; fortunately it was later returned under almost miraculous circumstances.
Few days later three German Officers came to the Monastery and put the monks through a terrible interrogation. The monks were arrested and sent to Firka prison, where they were charged with "illegal possession of guns and a radio, the provision of care to British fugitives and to Greeks, persecuted by the occupying forces". After the powerful intervention by the Bishop of Kydonias and Apokoronou Agathangelos Xirouhakis with the German authorities, the monks were released in a short time and returned to their Monastery. They found it almost wholly devastated and so had to begin again on the work of reconstruction, strengthened by the sympathy and help of the local population and of other monasteries of Crete. A provisional committee was set up and ran the Monastery till the end of World War II. The general situation in the area remained perilous because of the increasing surveillance by the Germans by reason of the previous activities of the monks, but these brave monks never stopped providing care for the allied soldiers who were trapped in the area and giving information and support to the guerillas of the National Resistance Movement whose activities were centered in the nearby mountains.
Following upon the liberation of Crete a force from the population of the area was formed at the expense of the Monastery with the name "The Regiment of Gyalias" whose task was to maintain order.
Abbot Agathangelos, in the mean time, had joined the Greek Army in Middle East as a priest and was distinguished for his activities. Two days though prior to his return to Greece, after the liberation, he died suddenly. The role of the Monastery and Agathangelos in the struggle against the Germans was widely recognized, not only by those who immediately benefited from it, but by the Governments of the Allied Powers through their officials.