25 August 2014

Returning to a restored monastery in the mountains
and an exhibition celebrating the work of El Greco

The bells of Aghia Irini in the hills above Rethymnon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

Patrick Comerford

Part of any holiday should be taking time to reconnect with nature and taking time to replenish the springs of spiritual life.

Last night, two of watched the sun set in the sea and behind the hills west of Rethymnon as we shared dinner in the Sunset Taverna below the western slopes of the Venetian Fortezza.

Long after the sun had set, we lingered at our table watching the traces of orange streaking through the purple and dark blue sky.

As the ordinary people of Rethymnon began a busy working week this morning [25 August 2014] in the parts of the town few tourists see or walk through, we caught a bus near our hotel outside the Municipal Gardens and headed south-east of the town, up into the hills above Rethymnon.

Olive groves in the hills above Rethymnon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

Along the winding roads, we were taken up though olive grove after olive grove before stopping at the small 16th century monastery of Panagia Chalevi, with its windows in the shape of flames or tears.

The winding journey upwards continued along the sides of the Myli Gorge before we reached the village of Chromonastiri, with its military museum.

Here the bus started downhill again, after passing through the village of Roussospiti, we finally hopped off the bus for a return visit to the Agia Irini Monastery, where we were welcomed at the gate by one of the nuns.

Agia Irini stands like a secure fortress above the valley below (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

The Byzantine monastery of Agia Irini stands like a secure fortress above the valley below, and its detached calm it is difficult to imagine that this is only 5 km from Rethymnon.

The monastery was founded in the 10th century on the site where a saintly hermit had lived in the sixth or seventh century. It remained an active monastery until the revolution in 1821, when it was badly damaged and then abandoned.

Work on restoring the monastery began in 1970, and in 1989, at the suggestion of the Bishop of Rethymnon, a community of nuns moved into the old monastery and made it their convent.

The nine nuns now living in Agia Irini have restored the monastery church, the cloisters, the refectory, the stables, and the wine press.

In their small shop, the sell their icons and hand-made produce, especially their weavings, needle-work and soap.

There was time to pray and to appreciate their hospitality in the stillness created by the mid-day sun before catching a later bus back down to Rethymnon.

At the exhibition ‘Homage to the Greek’ or ‘Homage to El Greco’ in the Old Artillery Hall in the Fortezza in Rethymnon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

Back in the old town, we climbed our way up through the narrow side streets and passages to the Fortezza to visit an exhibition in the Old Artillery Hall.

Homage to the Greek or Homage to El Greco is an art exhibition marking the 400th anniversary of the death of El Greco, and remains open until next Thursday [28 August] from 11.00 to 14.00 each day and from 18.00 to 22.00

Crete is the birthplace of El Greco, the Renaissance master Domenicos Theotokopoulos, and a programme exhibitions is marking ‘El Greco Year’ and the 400th anniversary of the death of the old master in 1614.

El Greco Year is being marked with events in other museums in Greece, including the National Gallery in Athens, the Alex Mylonas Museum, Macedonia Museum of Contemporary Art, and the Byzantine and Christian Museum. In addition to 24 works of art on loan from Italy, Spain, Austria, and Bosnia-Herzegovina, many of El Greco’s famous paintings are included in the round of exhibitions, including Saint Luke the Evangelist and The Adoration of the Magi from the Benaki Museum.

The exhibition, Domenikos Theotokopoulos between Venice and Rome, opened in the Historical Museum of Crete in Iraklion earlier this summer [20 June 2014].

The current exhibition in the Fortezza in Rethymnon brings together Greek and foreign artists who were invited to create their own banners reflecting the work of El Greco.

The exhibition has already been visited the Museum of Visual Arts in Iraklion at (5 May to 3 July 2014) and was on show last month in Chania at the Trianon Palace throughout July. It moves to Athens next month (18 September) where it will be on show at the Hub Event in the Municipal Gallery of Piraeus.

Watching the sunset from the Sunset Taverna beneath the Fortezza in Rethymnon last night (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

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