Megali Panagia

The Megali Panagia (Grate Virgin Mary) in Rethymno prefecture is a church in the Old Town of Rethymno, at the junction of the streets Emm. Tompazis and Petrou Manousaki.

The name of the Megali Panagia originates from the locals to separate it from the Mikri Panagia (Little Virgin Mary), the Kyria ton Aggelon (Our Lady of the Angels).

Instead of the present-day church there was a smaller one that existed during the Venetian period. This smaller church, after the Turks’ conquest of Rethymno in 1646, has been granted to the few Christians of the city, until its demolition. The church, according to the inscription on the outer southern part, was rebuilt from scratch in 1844 during the Episcopacy of Kallinikos Nikoletakis, Bishop of Rethymno and Avlopotamos. The works were completed in 1856.

After the World War II bombings, Megali Panagia was falling apart and in 1956, following a decision of the church board and despite the strong opposition of the local community, the church was demolished in order to build the present church, using the church of the Annunciation of Tinos as an architectural prototype. The original wooden iconostasis, work of Dimitrios Ragouzis from Sikinos, was placed in the new church, along with the icons painted by Antonios Vevelakis in the 19th century.

The Megali Panagia is a tree-nave basilica without a dome, with its middle nave being dedicated to the Virgin Mary, the left nave to the Three Hierarchs and the right one to the Holy Apostles. The Winemakers’ Guild of Rethymno made a donation in order to construct the bell tower of the Megali Panagia, which was built by an engineer Georgios Daskalakis in 1899, the same who built the minaret of the Neratze mosque and the Turkish School.

The icon of the “Virgin Mary Undefiled”, which originally was placed in the church the Kyria ton Aggelon (Our Lady of the Angels) and dates back from the late 15th century, was honored even by local Muslims and nowadays you can find it on the north wall of the church. According to tradition, it was the Virgin Palaiokastrini, located in the homonymous church outside the Fortezza Fortress entrance. Before the siege of the city by the Turks in 1646, the Venetians have demolished the church so that the enemy wouldn’t find cover and the Christians hid the image of the Virgin.

The Megali Panagia feasts on November 21st, on the day of the Presentation of Virgin Mary.

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