Kapsa Monastery in Crete
Approximately 5 kilometres out of Makrigialos, between Kalo Nero and Goudouras, perches the impressive monastery of Moni Kapsa, also known as the monastery of John the Baptist. Its full name is the Monastery of Agios Ioannis Kapsa (St John Kapsa) and it’s a dependency of Monastery Toplou near Sitia on the road to Vai. The monastery looks as though it has been carved into the hill and is built like an eagle’s nest high up on steep cliffs at the exit of the wild Pervolakia Gorge with amazing views over the Southern Mediterranean Sea and Koufounissi Island opposite. The monastery is still inhabited today and visitors can admire the beautiful cavernous church, the floor of which is covered with decorative mosaics showing religious symbols. With stunning views overlooking the Libyan sea and Koufounissi Island, the monastery, believed to have been founded in the 15th century, still attracts many devotees, particularly for the feast of John the Baptist on 29th August. Kapsa Monastery was rumoured in one recent book to be the first stop for Lord Lucan ( a British peer suspected of murder) in his flight from justice. Then a remote monastery accessible only by the hardiest of travellers in the early 1970s, it was said to be the resting place for three weeks for Lord Lucan. The monastery of Kapsas had been completely isolated until a few years ago as it could not be reached easily by land, but mainly by the sea. It is the easternmost monastic centre of the southern coast of Crete, built on a steep location, clinging to a vertical rock, on the east of the exit of the Pervolakia gorge. The building complex of the monastery grew gradually with constant additions and modifications from the Byzantine period until the last century. The catholicon is a twin-naved vaulted church, which is built in front of a cave. The very few fragments of Byzantine frescoes that have survived, have been repainted and are not in a good condition on the rocky southeastern side of the church. However, they prove that the building year of 1861 mentioned in a founding inscription above the entrance to the church is related to a renovation phase of a building that dates from the late Byzantine period.
Modern History of Monastery Kapsa in Crete
Ioannis Vitsentzos or Gerontoyiannis was born in 1799 in the then abandoned small monastery of St. John the Baptist of Kapsas.
The modern history of the monastery begins with his decision to move into the desert of Kapsas in the year 1841. Saint Gerontoyiannis lived in a cave with steep entrance on the northwest of the cave-catholicon for seventeen years. At that time, the old cells were allocated to the many pilgrims visiting the monastery, while some were candidate monks who wanted to live near the hermit. These events encouraged the renovation of the monastery, the repair of its old buildings and the construction of new ones. The saint lived with vigorous exercise, prayer and fasting. He received rich gifts from God, so numerous miracles were performed through him every day for those who approached him with faith in God. Gerontoyiannis, maintaining his internal state of peace and driven by boundless love for the suffering people in the example of our Lord Jesus Christ, advised, strengthened and healed all the sick, giving them the grace of the Lord, and health of soul and body. It was widely known that when the saint formed the sign of the cross on the sea, its water would become sweet. He even threw his robe onto the sea and used it as a raft to visit the island of Koufounissi, which is several miles from the Monastery on a regular basis in order to find peace and quiet. He was buried on August 9, 1874 in the southwestern corner of the Church of St. John the Baptist in a stone carved tomb by his grandson and later abbot of the monastery, Archimandrite Joseph Gerontakis. His holy relics were placed in a silver casket along with the skull in a prominent position of the church and they emit fragrance up to this day. He was officially registered in the List of Saints of the Orthodox Church by the Ecumenical Patriarchate on November 16, in 2004. Kapsa Monastery was also a centre of resistance to the German forces of occupation in the period 1941-1944. Greek and British resistance operatives came here to seek refuge before being taken to Egypt by British submarines. The Abbot at the time was Hilarion Syntychakis, who was forced to abandon the monastery along with the other monks in November 1943, by order of the Germans. After the war, however, they returned. The monastery is currently a male monastery and open for the public during normal hours. The rules of suitable dress for entering the church are quite strict.