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Panayia Kera church

Old Panayia Kera church at Kritsa with the most complete and most famous palette of Byzantine frescoes preserved in Crete.

Panayia Kera church at Kritsa.
Panayia Kera church at Kritsa.

The most famous church near the ‘largest village’ on Crete, which became famous through the film adaptation of Nikos Kazantzakis novel ‘Greek Passion’.

Kritsa

snow-capped peaks of the Lasithi plateau in winter
The southern arterial road from Aghios Nikolaos to Kritsa with the snow-capped peaks of the Lasithi plateau in winter.
The ‘traditional’ village of Kritsa, 5.6 miles (9 kilometers) from Aghios Nikolaos towards the mountains around the Lasithi Plateau, is a popular destination for tour buses and day tourists.
Despite the commercialization of the ‘largest village of Crete’, which has been in place for quite some time now, it is well worth a visit, not only to avoid the crowds of people on the coast at Aghios Nikolaos during the summer months. From the bus station in the city, buses run regularly to Kritsa.

By rental car you drive from Agios Nikolaos about 1 miles (1.7 kilometers) towards the big intersection with the highway. To the left you go to Ierapetra and Sitia, to the right to Elounda and Heraklion and directly straight ahead at the big Lidl supermarket to Kritsa, which is 5.5 miles (9 kilometers) away.

0.6 miles (1 kilometer) before Kritsa on the right side at the place Logari is the old Byzantine church Panayia Kera. Kritsa itself has become known worldwide through Jules Dassin’s movie shooting of Nikos Kazantaki’s novel Greek Passion with locals as actors and has since been considered a typical, traditional Cretan village.
Of course, it hasn’t been for a long time, but the magnificent panoramic location on a terrace of the Lasithi Mountains overlooking the Gulf of Mirabello is still magnificent, especially from the nearby ancient Dorian mountain city of Lato. Due to mass tourism the ‘showcase village’ has lost its original appearance, but especially in the evening it is still contemplative.


Panayia Kera church

Panayia Kera church
Back view of Panayia Kera church

The Panayia Kera church is a three-aisled and dome-shaped church, with fantastic Byzantine frescoes. It is located along the road from Aghios Nikolaos about 0.5 miles (0.8 km) before Kritsa. The excursion is then also very practical with the adjoining, ancient Doric mountain town of Lato.

The church was constructed in three sections and the present center nave with the dome hall was built in the 12th century. The construction of the dome is unique in Crete since it clearly shows the Venetian influence.

On the other hand, the southern nave, consecrated to Saint Anna, as well as the northern nave, which is dedicated to Antonios, are covered with barrels of single-chambered chapels.

Frescoes

Within the beautiful church of Panayia Kera is perhaps the most complete and certainly the most famous palette of Byzantine frescoes preserved in Crete.
They are originally from the 14th and early 15th century. But since all were so often re-painted and reworked, it is impossible to accurately date them.

Panayia Kera church
Southern entrance (door on the left side): the buttresses on the north and south sides have altered the harmonious aspect of the Panayia Kera Church somewhat, but were done to keep it from collapsing.

The frescoes at the southern entrance, through which one enters the Panayia Kera Church, show the life of Anne, the mother of Mary: her marriage and the birth of Mary, as well as the early life of the Virgin herself until her journey to Bethlehem.
The wall to the central nave is decorated with a long series of pictures with saints.


In the center of the church is the central nave, which is the oldest part. The frescoes originally date back to the 13th century. The story of Mary is continued and there are scenes from the life of Christ, including the birth of Christ, Paradise, the banquet of Herod, and an excellent representation of the Lord’s Last Supper. In the vault of the altar room, the Ascension of Christ as well as the Mother of God, the proclamation and the church fathers are depicted.

Panayia Kera church
Supporting pillars to save the church from collapse

Near the main portal in the west are Saint Helena and her son, the Byzantine Emperor Constantine and the north-western pillar graces a portrait of Saint Francis of Assisi.

In the north side, there are quite fragmentary but lively scenes from the resurrection and the Last Judgment, together with the joys of paradise and chronological excerpts from the life of the saints (especially Saint Anthony). There is also a picture of an unknown saint in Cretan nationality clothes.

In the course of time, the large scenes were portrayed with small portraits of saints and apostles.

Panayia Kera church in 2004

Visit

Panayia Kera church
View inside Panayia Kera church

Opening hours during the season: Tuesday to Sunday from 9 am to 4 pm, admission 3 Euros. For an extra fee you can often have the frescoes explained by a guide.
Photos can not be made in the interior unfortunately and it’s a good idea to have flashlight ready to illuminate the frescoes and also the rather uneven ground during the visit.

Panayia Kera church
Panayia Kera church in front of Kritsa.

Directions to Kritsa and Panayia Kera church

Link to map with directions:
Click here: Directions Panayia Kera church.


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