Timios Stavros Church – Rethymno
At an altitude of 2.456 metres, the chapel of Timios Stavros (Holy Cross in Greek) immortalises the ancient practice of worship in peak sanctuaries.
The dry-stone chapel, which has the shape of a violin case, consists of two circular rooms, one for the accommodation of worshippers and another, the main one, for worship. The chapel is a dependency of the Diskouri Monastery, which is located at the foot of the northern side of Psiloritis. It celebrates on September 14th, on which day worshippers from all over Crete visit the chapel. During the winter, the chapel of the Timios Stavros Church is covered with snow; in summer, it can be used as a shelter for the night. It is possible to camp in the plateau around the chapel, especially on its southern, protected side; however suitable equipment is needed since the temperature drops considerably at night.
In older days, the celebration of Timios Stavros used to be a pole of attraction for Cretans, who would begin the long journey to the summit of Psiloritis from every corner of the island. Pavlos Vlastos, a Cretan scholar of the 19th century, has handed down wonderful descriptions of the ascent to the chapel, which he even named “a sacred route”. He himself made this holy pilgrimage to the sacred shrine in 1860 and again in 1872. At the time, worshippers would walk as far as the slopes of Psiloritis on the eve of the celebration and seek refuge in the stone huts found there, offered kindly by the shepherds. By observing the stars, they could decide on the best time to set off, in order to reach Timios Stavros by daybreak. They would also set fire to the shrubs along the footpath so that the “sacred route” would light up their night walk. In the meantime, people in the neighbouring towns and villages stayed awake to watch the illuminated procession towards the summit; the lit-up path could be seen from very far away. Many residents of the villages in the area of Psiloritis believe, even today, that at midnight, on the great celebration of Stavros, an illuminated cross flies over every mountain top of Crete where a church of the Timios Stavros can be found.