Just a short while ago I wrote a bit about the Koubeli neighborhood east of Chania on the western side of the Akrotiri peninsula. I included there a single photo of the rather forlorn Church of St. George, which stands more or less in ruins on the slope of a hill looking out to the Sea of Crete. My wife Oksana and I were drawn back there yesterday and this time we made the short trek over some ancient stone steps and dirt pathways to the church itself. It turned out to be quite a discovery. As is often the case with old abandoned churches on Crete – this one is not entirely abandoned. And as is also true of many abandoned churches on Crete, you can actually go inside. There’s a bolt lock on the door, but just slip it back and open up. Actually, all that is left of what once was a fairly large cathedral in a monastery, is the sanctuary beneath the cupola. (Koubeli in Turkish means dome or cupola.) And when you step into this tiny space you are greeted by several of the priest’s important tools, a wooden cross, several icons (a couple of them quite beautiful), a candela and a censer. Someone has left a large number of fresh candles on the small candela if you wish to light a candle for someone. In a tiny back corner you will find a chair if you wish to rest your weary bones, and a broom, if you wish to do a little work.
Information about the church is sparse. I’m sure it exists somewhere, but, if it does, it hasn’t reached the internet yet. The only information I could find was on Alexandros Roniotis’s always excellent cretanbeaches.com website. He notes that the monastery was probably destroyed in the 17th century by the Turks and has remained in ruins ever since. A nearby church located at the graves of the Venizelous family is the official authority for the Koubeli sanctuary. Someday I may make my way over there to see if I can dig up some more information.
Many of the old cathedral walls are extant as foundations or even knee-high walls out in the open air. Three graves which once cradled someone’s honored remains are now just weed-filled holes in the ground. At the back of the sanctuary one sees how the church was built right on top of existing rock formations – this is extremely common on Crete. Why waste pushing a few added stones into place if nature has already done it for you?
At all times during your visit it is worth remembering – this is a place of worship, a sacred place. Leave everything as you found it, and, if you can spare it, leave behind a coin or two. You never know who might need it.
All text and photos © copyright 2020 by John Freedman. If you wish to use, repost, reproduce any part of the text or any of the photos, please ask for permission.