Rethymno Church of Four Martyrs

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Location: Town

Rethymno’s largest church, the Church of the Four Martyrs is a rather new building, dating to 1975, although it is actually the third church built on the site. The first two, dating to 1905-1947 and 1955-1972, were also consecrated to the Four Martyrs.

The Four Martyrs were Angelis, his brother Manouil, and their cousins Georgios and Nikolaos, Cretan men from the village of Melambes. They were all members of the Retzepis/Recepı (né Vlatakis) family, which had feigned conversion to Islam to gain the benefits allocated to Muslims by the local Ottoman rulers. Hence, they were wealthy and upstanding members of the local community.
When the 1821 Revolution broke out, they joined the side of the Cretan rebels against the Ottomans, revealing their true Christian identity. They took part in the rebellion until 1824, when Crete was subdued by the Egyptians under Ibrahim Pasha. Mehmed Pasha, wali of Rethymno, was then informed of their Christian faith and had them arrested as apostates.
The Pasha offered them to convert/reconvert to Islam to spare their lives, but they refused. On October 28th, 1824, following four months of torture, the Four Martyrs were taken to the Porta Guora, the main gate of Rethymno’s city walls, where they were decapitated.
Their bodies were left unburied for three days, before being taken to Saint George’s church at Perivolia. However, some years later, their relics were exhumed by Bishop Ioannikios of Rethymno; the skulls were taken to the city’s old Metropolitan Church, while the rest were placed at the Monastery of Arkadi. Three of the four skulls survive today and were granted to the Church of the Four Martyrs upon its opening in 1979. The church also holds the oldest known icon depicting the Four, which was made by Ioannis Frangopoulos of Zakynthos in 1836.

The church is a three-aisled temple, with the northern aisle dedicated to the Forty Martyrs (celebrated March 9th) and the southern aisle to the Holy Ten (commemorated December 23rd). The iconostasis features icons commissioned by Fotis Kontoglou in 1955 and intended for the second church, while the basement holds a chapel of Saint Sabbas the Sanctified, as well as a lecture hall. Oriented east-to-west, its defining feature is the pair of very tall bell towers on each side of the entrance, while opposite the church is Tessaron Martyron Square, a beautiful patch of green built in honor of the four.



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