04 October 2021

Praying in Ordinary Time 2021:
128, Saint Francis Church, Rethymnon

The former Church of Saint Francis on Saint Francis street now hosts the Archaeological Museum of Rethymnon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Patrick Comerford

Today is the Feast of Saint Francis (4 October 2021), one of the few post-schism Western saints who remains popular in the Orthodox Church. Saint Francis is recalled on this day in the calendars of many Anglican churches, although not in the calendar of the Church of Ireland.

Before the day gets busy, I am taking a little time this morning for prayer, reflection and reading. Each morning in the time in the Church Calendar known as Ordinary Time, I am reflecting in these ways:

1, photographs of a church or place of worship;

2, the day’s Gospel reading;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

My theme for these few weeks is churches in Rethymnon on the island of Crete, where I spent two weeks in mid-September.

My photographs this morning (4 October 2021) are from the Church of Saint Francis on Saint Francis street (Αγίου Φραγκίσκου, Agiou Frankiskou), between Ethnikís Antistaseos street (Εθνικής Αντιστάσεως) and Mikrasiaton square (Μικρασιατών) in the heart of the old city.

Gazi Huseyin Pasha incorporated the church into in a larger complex and the former church was used as a poorhouse during the Turkish occupation (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

During the Venetian period in Crete, many Franciscan churches were built in Crete, including Iraklion, Rethymnon, Chania and Neapolis. Petros Philargos, a friar of the Franciscan community in Iraklion who was born in Neapolis in eastern Crete, later became Pope Alexander V.

The Church of Saint Francis was the main church of the Franciscan monastery in Venetian Rethymnon. It was founded at the turn of the 16th and 17th centuries, and despite the small number of friars, the monastery enjoyed considerable prestige and became the burial place for members of the nobility, officials, and wealthy families.

The churches and some annexes on the south side are the only surviving buildings of the former monastery.

The church was a timber-roofed basilica with transepts, having a square sanctuary and two side chapels. The central nave was separated from the rest of the church by a wall built in the Ottoman period.

The transept has no roof, and the sanctuary and part of the south chapel are now in private ownership.

The magnificent doorway and its composite columns are unique in Rethymnon and are part of the building programme in the late 16th and early 17th century that gave the monastery its Renaissance character.

This elaborately – almost excessively – decorated ornate doorway is mainly Corinthian in style, but it includes the only example in Rethymnon of compound capitals, which are one of the five Renaissance styles. The overlapping levels of the architrave help to date the doorway from the same time as both the doorway of Santa Maria Church and the Rimondi fountain, both only a few paces away. The keystone is notable for its large acanthus flower.

The south chapel is noted for its dome, which rests on four pairs of arches supported by pillars and columns, all made of grey marble from Istria, a rare material in Venetian Crete.

Excavation in the west nave uncovered several makeshift shaft graves that have been linked with the Ottoman siege of the city in 1646. The transept and north chapel contained well-made cist graves. The single tomb in the centre of the south chapel probably belonged to a prominent member of the local community.

After the Ottoman capture of Rethymnon, Gazi Huseyin Pasha incorporated the church into in a complex that included the neighbouring Nerantze Mosque in 1654, and the former church was used as an imaret or poorhouse during the Turkish occupation.

In the 1920s, the church was used to provide shelter for Greek refugees from Anatolia. In more recent years it contained a number of shops, and then until 1996 it was used as an exhibition centre for the local city council.

Careless and fruitless attempts at restoration work in the 1970s led to part of the building being demolished. However, recent excavations around the church unearthed some important archaeological discoveries, including the tombs of two Venetian nobles.

For a time, the building belonged to the University of Crete, and the later plans are to use the former church to house the Byzantine Museum of Rethymnon and the Byzantine and Post-Byzantine Collection of the Prefecture of Rethymnon. For many years, it remains closed to the public, but it now hosts the Archaeological Museum of Rethymnon.

Inside the former Church of Saint Francis (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Luke 10: 25-37 (NRSVA):

25 Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. ‘Teacher,’ he said, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ 26 He said to him, ‘What is written in the law? What do you read there?’ 27 He answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself.’ 28 And he said to him, ‘You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.’

29 But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbour?’ 30 Jesus replied, ‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan while travelling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, “Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.” 36 Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?’ 37 He said, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.’

The magnificent doorway and its composite columns are unique in Rethymnon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (4 October 2021, Saint Francis, World Habitat Day) invites us to pray:

Lord, we give thanks for your bountiful creation. May we endeavour to take better care of the environment by living sustainably.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

A relief from the funerary monument of a priest’s wife, Maria Kouratoupolou (1531), from Saint John’s Church, Skouloufia (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

A 15th century Byzantine-style fresco from the Church of the Panaghia (Virgin Mary) at Patsos in Amari (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

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