St. Catherine of Sinai, Herakion

Open to the public: Temporarily closed
Supervised by: Holy Archdiocese of Crete
Access and walking difficulty: Difficulty rating, 1

North East of the Cathedral of St. Minas is the Nave of the monastery of St. Catherine of Sinai, succursal of the homonymous monastery.

Founded in the 10th century, it was a one-chamber Basilica, transept with late Gothic influences. To the Northern side of the main building, a small domed chapel displaying strong Baroque character was added, together with a narthex dedicated to the Ten Saints.

Although a traveler at the end of the 15th century gives us a description of the main building at that time, it seems that what we see today is from the first half of the 16th century (shortly after the earthquake of 1508) just before El Greco began studying at St. Catherine, if indeed he ever did attend. The 16th century building, displays its western influence.

It’s spiritual significance and importance is that in the 16th century the monastery operated a school that taught Philosophy, Theology, Rhetoric and Painting. According to tradition it was here, at St. Catherine’s that Domenikos Theotokopoulos - El Greco (1541–1614) was educated. Famous masters and painters taught here. Michael Damaskinos, among the most prominent at that time, most likely completed the 6 well-known icons that are on display. Today one can see a representative collection of Byzantine icons at the site, as well as Cretan Iconography of major artists including Michael Damaskinos. Unfortunately the time-frame of about 5 years before Damaskinos, El Greco went to Italy, does not favor the theory that one was the teacher of the other. Possibly they were fellow students instead.

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