restricted access Some Notes on the History of the Monastery of Saint Francis in Candia, Crete
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Some Notes on the History of the Monastery of Saint Francis in Candia, Crete1


One of the most exciting monuments in Candia, located on the island of Crete, was the Saint Francis Monastery. The church and monastery were situated on a natural hill, next to the city’s defensive walls on the east side. The elevated position of the buildings attracted the views of many inhabitants and voyagers.2 It was a medieval tradition to position the church at the apex of a hill with the monastery below it.3 The first one to study this monastery thoroughly was the Italian archaeologist Giuseppe Gerola (1877–1938). In the present day an attempt is being made to collect all available information about the monastery. [End Page 39]

The Tradition About the Foundation (Early Thirteenth century)

Almost nothing of worth is known about the establishment of the monastery. Gerola and, later, Lassithiotakis noted that, according to tradition, it was founded by Saint Francis of Assisi in 1219 during his voyage to the Holy Land. However, there is no evidence to back up this claim.4 Another testimony has come down to us through the Flemish doctor and geographer Olfert Dapper who, in 1688, wrote that the monastery was built by Pope Alexander V(Petrus Philargus) who came from Crete.5

Petrus Philargus’s life is known mainly through the work of Flaminius Cornelius (Corner). Philargus was born at Kares of Mirambello in Crete and later served as a monk at the monastery of Saint Francis in Candia, before becoming the Pope in 1409. In brief, his story is as follows: there was a young boy who, after having lost his parents because of a plague, became a beggar, until he went to the monastery of the Franciscans in Candia; he lived and studied there. Later when he became Pope, he had such fond memories of his time [End Page 40] at the monastery, so he built a chapel with a great arc in their monastery as an expression of his gratitude.6 This is evidence that Alexander V was not the founder of the monastery, as Dapper claimed, but only a benefactor.

Apart from Philargus’s story, there was a tradition which spread widely until the nineteenth century. According to Markos Renieris, during the period of the Venetian rule, a Catholic priest used to see a young boy leading a flock of sheep in the same place every day. Under his parents’ permission, this priest took the boy under his protection. As the boy grew up, he managed to get high ranking positions in the ecclesiastical hierarchy, those of the archbishop and cardinal. But he never forgot the priest who had helped him in his childhood. When he grew older, he would build a church in the place where they met.7 Gerola knew of this tradition through Renieris’ book, but he never mentioned it. Instead he noted that the time of the foundation of the monastery is unknown but that it probably took place just after the establishment of the Venetians on the island of Crete.8

Some common elements can be found in the two stories, the one about Petrus Philargus and the other about the unknown young shepherd: a) the young shepherd came from a poor family and Philargus was begging in the streets; b) both the young shepherd and Philargus were taken under the protection of the Franciscans; c) they both achieved the highest rank in the ecclesiastical hierarchy (the shepherd became archbishop while cardinal and Philargus became a Pope; d) they both did not forget the Franciscan priests and monks, and they became benefactors of their monastery: the unknown cardinal built a church, while Philargus, as Pope Alexander V, built a chapel. [End Page 41]

However, one can identify many differences as well: a) when the priest met the shepherd, his parents were still alive, while Philargus’ parents had died because of a plague; b) in one case we learn about a shepherd, in the other about a beggar; c) the shepherd became archbishop and cardinal, but the title of Pope isn’t mentioned anywhere. But despite of these differences, the highlights...