Crete was beautiful. Since I've talked about site reports in this blog in the past and sought to place them in the immediate cultural context of the American School, I thought it only fair to include one of my site reports. This is basically the handout that I give the Regular Members with my oral report. I don't go into as much detail as my handout contains (that's what the handout is for) and since I delivered mine at the church of Ag. Titos at Gortyn, I spent some time looking at the architecture of the building. But I do think that the report captures the essential character of the genre:
Early Christian, Late Roman, and Byzantine Crete
Crete is referred to in Acts of the Apostles (Acts 2:1-41) and in Epistle of Titus where Paul tell Titus (Titus 1:1-14):
“I left you in Crete so that you might set right what remains to be done and appoint presbyters in every town, as I directed you, on condition that a man be blameless, married only once, with believing children who are not accused of licentiousness or rebellious. For a bishop as God's steward must be blameless, not arrogant, not irritable, not a drunkard, not aggressive, not greedy for sordid gain, but hospitable, a lover of goodness, temperate, just, holy, and self-controlled, holding fast to the true message as taught so that he will be able both to exhort with sound doctrine and to refute opponents. For there are also many rebels, idle talkers and deceivers, especially the Jewish Christians. It is imperative to silence them, as they are upsetting whole families by teaching for sordid gain what they should not. One of them, a prophet of their own, once said, "Cretans have always been liars, vicious beasts, and lazy gluttons." That testimony is true. Therefore, admonish them sharply, so that they may be sound in the faith, instead of paying attention to Jewish myths and regulations of people who have repudiated the truth. To the clean all things are clean, but to those who are defiled and unbelieving nothing is clean; in fact, both their minds and their consciences are tainted.”
This text and Acts seems to suggest that Crete had a sizable Jewish community. Little more is known about the church in Crete prior to the 5th century. The local name of Aghioi Deka seems to refer to a group of martyr during the Decian persecutions. According the story, the 10 martyrs represented every region of the island (i.e. every town of the Paul’s letter to Titus; by the 8th century, however, 5 had come from Gortyn and 5 from elsewhere). Along with the Aghioi Deka, St. Titus continues to be venerated throughout the island. The rhetorical position that the Christians on Crete were among the first Christian community in Europe (e.g. Spyridakis 1990) finds parallels with similar arguments for the European character of Minoan settlements.
The foundation of the church in Crete by Paul qualified it as an Apostolic See. By the 4th century, the ecclesiastical administration of the island was at the provincial capital of Gortyn. The remains of a massive, probably Early Christian basilica at the site reflects the wealth of the Early Christian community there. Moreover, it seems likely that this church has a relatively late date. The church is a cross-domed basilica. The crossing of the transept and the main nave appear to have been barrel vaulted. The polygonal exterior wall of the apse and the pastophories situated to the north and south of the sanctuary with apsidal east ends likewise recommend a late 6th to mid 7th century date, and show close parallels with churches in Laconia (e.g. the Acropolis church from Sparta and Tigani in the Mani which may have similar dates). This date seems to find confirmation in the architectural sculpture, most notably the column capitals which appear to date to the later 6th/early 7th; fragments of a double-stair type ambo were also discovered. Arguments for a 10th century construction using earlier spolia are conceptually appealing, but probably incorrect. Theodore Fyfe, Arthur Evans first architect at Knossos, published the church in 1907 in the Architectural Review of 1907. Orlandos restudied the church in the 1920s (EEBS 3 (1926), 301ff.).
The late date of the church reflects the late prosperity of the island and Gortyn. The 6th and 7th century are well-represented in the epigraphy. An inscription (Bandy no. 31) of probably Justinianic date credits an archbishop Theodoros and Proconsul (anthypatos) Helios for restoring a wall (toixos). It is interesting to consider that this might refer to the wall of the city and compare it to inscriptions from a similar context in the Korinthia which make no mention of local dignitaries. Seventh century works includes the modification of the Nymphaeum and the inscribing of four acclamatory texts on the columns naming the family of Heraklius (Bandy no. 23). There is epigraphic evidence attesting the presence of the circus factions on the island (the Greens) hinting that chariot racing took place there with at least notional ties to the Constantinople (Bandy no. 20). The epigraphy from Gortyn includes numerous acclamations reflecting the continued vitality of civic life.
The Metropolitan bishop of the island functioned throughout Late Antiquity and as Balkan bishops succumbed to invasions, economic dislocations, and various natural disasters, the bishops of Gortyn rose in prestige. As with all bishops from ecclesiastical province of Illyricum Orientalis the 7th century Ecumenical Councils, the bishops of Crete signed with the bishops from the West. In the Late 6th century the Bishop of Gortyn appears in correspondence with Pope Gregory the Great who intervenes in a contested election. At the Sixth Ecumenical Council (680) the Bishops from Gortyn signed under the papal delegation with the bishops from Thessaloniki and the bishop from Corinth. By the Council in Trullo (691-2) the bishop served as the representative of Rome. It is interesting to note that despite the close ties to the pope, monophysitism (suggesting close ties with Eastern Sees) had appeared on Crete; Maximos Confessor when he visited the island in 647/9 met with Severan bishops there. By the mid 8th century, things had changed, according to his Vita, St. Andrew of Crete arrived on the island from Constantinople who seems to have appointed him bishop (rather than local bishops with the approval of Rome). Andrew of Crete becomes the most prominent Early Byzantine saint on the island. He is traditionally credited with the creation of the Byzantine musical genre of the kanon. His life provides important information on the conditions on the island during the 8th century. He also wrote several preserved encomia including one the Ayioi Deka.
Early Byzantine Crete experienced the disruption of Arab incursions in the Mediterranean basin as early as the later 7th century. Not only is their evidence that the Arabs wintered in Crete as early as 674, but the economy in Crete suffered as Roman rule collapsed among their neighbors in Africa and the Peloponnesus. Crete was incorporated into the Theme of Hellas and received considerable attention from the Byzantine army and navy. Consequently, the island maintained Byzantine rule through most of the 8th century (there was a massive Cretan delegation at II Nicaea in 787). The political turmoil of the first part of the 9th century in Byzantium led to a group of Arabs, originally driven from Spain and then Alexandria, to establish a foothold on Crete near modern day Herakleion (Medieval Chandax) some time during the reign of Theophilos (829-840). Over the next 15 years they managed to conquer the island and during the later 9th and early 10th century the Arab rulers defied Byzantine efforts at retaking the island. The Cretan Muslims were active throughout the Aegean during this time, hiding out in the waters off Kythera (according to the Vita of Theodore of Kythera) and taking hostages for ransom as far north as the Argolid (from the Vita of Peter of Argos).
The reconquest was finally achieved by Nicephoras Phocas in 961 (Theophanes Continuatus Book 6). There is no reason necessarily to think that there were mass conversions to Islam during the years of the Arab conquest, but it is likely the Christian infrastructure suffered some during that time. The 10th Vita of Ay. Nikonos (O Metanoeite) tells of visiting Crete, rebuilding churches, and preaching. A more interesting source is the autobiographical Vita of John the Xenos (11th c.) who travels around Crete rebuilding churches and founding new ones. It provides valuable information regarding the re-imagining of the Cretan landscape in the 11th century and suggests a period of social change following the disruptions of the Arab conquest. The decline of centralized Byzantine rule in the late 12th century led to the growing autonomy of the island and ultimately the revolt of Karykes in 1191-2 (as elsewhere at the periphery of the Byzantine state). This was quickly put down, perhaps by the Cretans themselves or perhaps by the threat imperial intervention.
Bandy, A., The Greek Christian Inscriptions of Crete. Athens 1972.
Βαραλής, Ι.Δ., “Παρατηρήρεις στην παλαιοχριστιανική ναοδομία της Κρήτη,” Creta Romana e Protobyzantina 3.1. Padova 2004. 813-838.
Bowden, W., “Epirus and Crete: architectural interaction in late antiquity,” Creta Romana e Protobyzantina 3.1. Padova 2004. 787-800
Fyfe, T. “The Church at St. Titus at Gortyna in Crete,” Architectural Review 22 (1907), 5-60.
Orlandos, A. “Νεώτεροι ἔρευναι ἐν Ἁγ. Τιτῷ τῆς Γορτύνα,” EEBS 3 (1926), 297-328.
Δετοράκης, Θ., Οι Άγιοι Της Πρώτης Βυζαντινής Περιόδου Της Κρήτης Και Η Σχετική Προς Αυτούς Φιλολογία. Athens 1970.
Sanders, I. F. Roman Crete: An Archaeological Survey and Gazetteer of Late Hellenistic, Roman, and Early Byzantine Crete. Warminster 1982.
Tsougarakis, D. Byzantine Crete: From the 5th Century to the Venetian Conquest. Athens 1988.
Tωμαδάκις, Ν.Β., “Ὁ Ἄγιος Ἰωάννης ὁ Ξένος καὶ ἡ διαθήκη αὐτοῦ,” KrChron 2 (1948), 47-72.
Xanthopoulou, M., “Le mobilier ecclésiastique métallique de la basilique de Saint-Tite a Gortyne (Crète centrale),” CArch 46 (1998), 103-119.