Still in the prefecture of Rethymno. But down on the south coast
of the island, is the idyllic area of Preveli. The mouth of
the River Kourtaliotis meets the Libyan sea here and forms a
delightful lagoon, fringed with palm trees and oleanders.
Unusual and tropical but also, because of this, quite busy in
the summer months. A few metres out of the village of Asomatos,
past the Kourtaliotis ravine, there is a road on the left-hand
side, which is half asphalted and half dirt road, which leads
through lush green countryside to Preveli and the monastery of
the same name. Moni Prevelis lies around 35.5km south of
Rethymno and the monastery is constructed on top of a hill,
looking out to the sea. Today only two monks reside there
although it has a heroic and glorious history. The monastery was
founded in the 16th/17th century and is dedicated to St. John
the Theologian. The enchanting area where it is built has
attracted many travellers over time including the British
Admiral Sprait who, on seeing it, remarked that this place was
the paradise of Crete. Tradition tells that the name of the
monastery comes from a feudal chieftain named Prevelis, who came
from nearby Ardaktos. He dedicated his lands to the monastery
and also built the small church of St. John there.
Preveli, as with many other Cretan monasteries, offered important assistance during the struggles for liberation from the Turkish occupation. For example, in the 1866 revolution it provided refuge to the revolutionaries until it was completely destroyed by Ressit Pasha. Furthermore, during the Second World War, the monastery assisted the Greek resistance against the Nazis. As retribution, the Germans vandalized and plundered the monastery and part of their spoils was the golden Holy Cross which they attempted to take back to Germany. However, after three failed attempts to fly out of Crete with the Cross, they returned it back to the monastery believing it was some kind of miracle. In 1941, after the Battle of Crete, the monastery offered refuge to a great number of Allied soldiers who hid there waiting for submarines to take them off the island. Today, in Australia, there is a park named Preveli in recognition of gratitude to the monastery for saving the lives of many Australian soldiers. The museum of the monastery has some fine exhibits including sacramental vestments, ecclesiastical artefacts and several interesting documents including one about the monastery itself which was written by Gregory V in 1789. There is also a very fine library.
The present church of St. John (Agios Ioannis) was built in 1836 but partially destroyed in the 1866 revolution. It was renovated in 1911. The present rooms of the Abbots were built around 1900 of which there are twenty cells and also guest quarters which are in the old abbot's room. Inside the church there is the miraculous gilded Holy Cross studded with precious stones and "holy wood" .