16 June 2018

In search of an elusive
blue dome in the trees
beyond the beach

The elusive blue dome, hidden in the trees behind the beach at Georgioupoli (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

Blue domes are commonly seen on Orthodox Churches in Santorini and Mykonos and other Cycladic islands in Greece – indeed, the Lidl multinational supermarket chain caused controversy last year when it removed crosses from the domes on churches in Santorini in images it was using to market Greek products.

The blue domes of Aegean and Cycladic churches are so well-known that have come to typify stereotypical images of picture-postcard Greece. But in Crete, the domes and roofs of churches normally have distinctive terracotta tiles.

For the past few days I have been surprised, therefore, to see from the balcony of my hotel roof in Georgioupoli what I thought was the blue dome of a church in the distance, appearing over the tree tops to the east.

Late yesterday afternoon, while the sun was still beaming down, despite forecasts of more expected thunder, two of us set out to walk east along the beach in search of the unusual blue dome and what we thought was a church.

No-one knew where we were looking for, and seemed beyond belief that every time we thought we were near the church it the dome and the tower seemed to vanish from our eyes again and again.

We cross through beach bars and all-included hotels, we walked around swimming pools and children’s play areas, all the time chasing this blue dome, and eventually crossed gingerly across the main road with a mixture of fear, trepidation and delight as we realised the dome was on the other side of the national road (VOAK) that links Chania to the west with Rethymnon and that continues further east on to Iraklion and Aghios Nikolaos.

But there was no village around, and no signposts for either a church or a monastery.

Finally, we found the blue dome and the tall tower – only to realise that these were eccentric architectural features in the Pilot Beach Resort. It is yet another hotel offering tourists inclusive packages, so they do not have to venture outside the hotel gardens and grounds – least of all, I imagine, in search of a church.

The hilltop chapel of the Prophet Elijah in a small graveyard east of Georgioupoli (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Disappointed, we started walking back on the old road towards Georgioupoli, and we came across a hilltop cemetery chapel that we can see from our hotel balcony too.

The Prophet Elias (Hλίας) or Elijah is a popular dedication for mountain-top and hill-top churches and chapels throughout Greece, because of his association with hilltops and mountains, including, in the New Testament, the mountain of the Transfiguration.

Inside the hilltop cemetery chapel of the Prophet Elias (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The chapel is tiny but inside there is a number of icons of the Prophet Elijah, including one covered in a gold-like metal, telling the story of him being taken up to heaven by chariot and horses of fire (see II Kings 2:1-12).

An icon of the Prophet Elias in the hilltop cemetery chapel (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The panorama that spread below us included the bay and harbour of Georgoupoli, including the much-photographed tiny chapel of Aghios Nikolaos at the end of a rocky breakwater.

The tiny chapel in the grounds of the Feriniki holiday apartment complex (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The walk back along the road to Georgioupoli was surprising short. Within ten minutes we were back in the resort.

In the grounds of the Feriniki holiday apartment complex, behind our hotel, we came across another, whitewashed private chapel, small enough to go unnoticed but large enough for three or four people to stand in.

The chapel has a tiny, simple wooden screen that replaces the traditional iconostasis or icon screen, and is decorated with a number of locally-written icons.

Its simplicity is real, and unlike the imaginary but elusive blue-domed church to the east, it offers space for prayer and reflection.

Inside the chapel at Feriniki, with its simple icon screen (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

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