The church of Saint Titus in Heraklion
Saint Titus, or more properly the church of Saint Titus in Heraklion, is one of the most important monuments in the centre of town, on 25th of August Street. It is set in a lovely square with a few cafés and bars, Agios Titos Square. “Agios Titos” means Saint Titus in Greek.
History of Saint Titus church
In 961, Nicephorus Phocas drove the Arabs from Crete, bringing the island back under the wing of the powerful Byzantine Empire. This is when the first Orthodox church of St Titus must have been built, to rekindle the Christian faith and tradition in Crete, which had declined due to the corsair conquest of the island.
Saint Titus was a disciple of the Apostle Paul and the first Bishop of Crete. The first church dedicated to him was that in the old capital Gortyn, which also housed the metropolitan see of the island until its destruction by earthquake and the Arab transfer of the capital from Gortyn to Chandax (Heraklion) in 828 AD.
The skull of St Titus, the miraculous icon of the Virgin Mesopanditissa and other sacred relics from Gortyn were moved to the new church.
At the fall of Heraklion to the Turks all relics were removed to Venice, where they still remain today. The single exception is the skull of St Titus, which was returned to Heraklion in 1966 and is now kept in a silver reliquary in the church.
During the period of Turkish rule, the church of Saint Titus was ceded to Vizier Fazil Ahmet Kiopruli, who converted it into a mosque known as the Vezir Mosque.
The great earthquake of 1856 totally destroyed the church. It was rebuilt in its present form as an Ottoman mosque by architect Athanasios Moussis, who also designed the Orthodox cathedral of Saint Minas and the barracks in Eleftherias Square.
The minaret of Saint Titus was demolished in the 1920s, when the last Muslims left Heraklion with the exchange of populations between Greece and Turkey. Today Saint Titus (Agios Titos in Greek) is an Orthodox church dedicated to St Titus the Apostle, following modifications carried out by the Church of Crete in 1925.
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