The holocaust of Arkadi
The Arkadi Monastery is one of Crete's most venerated symbols of
freedom. The defiant defence of this fortress-like monastery during the 1866 Cretan rebellion against the Turks is still legendary and
By the mid-1800's, the Turks had occupied Crete for more than two centuries, despite frequent bloody uprisings by Cretan rebels determined to win independence and union with
Greece. Then came the revolution of 1866, instigated by a 16 member revolutionary
committee. Arkadi Monastery became the rebels' headquarters, owing to its central position on the island and strategic location atop a craggy inland
When the Turkish Pasha in Rethymnon learned of the rebels operating out of the
monastery, he sent an ultimatum to Arkadi's Abbot Gabriel Marinakis: either expel the revolutionary committee or the monastery would be
But Abbot Gabriel was himself acting as chairman of the committee. He refused the Pasha's
demand. The rebels began preparing the monastery for the anticipated Turkish
attack. At dawn on November 8, 1866, the Arkadi defenders awoke to find the monastery surrounded by 15,000 Turkish soldiers armed with 30
cannons. The monastery walls were manned by only 259 armed men, including 45 monks and 12 of the 16 revolutionary committee
members. There were also almost 700 unarmed women and children from nearby
villages, seeking refuge from the encroaching Turks.
The Turkish commander's demand for surrender was answered by gunfire. The battle was
Turkish troops stormed the monastery gate in waves and hundreds were mown down by heavy fire from the defenders and from seven Cretan snipers who had barricaded themselves in a windmill outside the
walls. As night fell on the first day of the battle, the fields around the monastery were heaped with Turkish
corpses. The snipers had died one by one. But still the gate and walls held.
In the dark of the first night, the two Cretan rebels were lowered by a rope from a
window, dressed as Turks, to slip through enemy lines and seek reinforcements from a nearby
town. When it was learned that no help was coming, one of the rebels crept back through Turkish ranks to return to
The second day of battle broke with a bang, as the Turks opened fire with two heavy artillery guns
they had dragged up the gorge from Rethymnon during the night. As the walls and gate smashed
and crumbled under the incessant pounding of the shells, Abbot Gabriel gathered the defenders into the Arkadi Chapel to receive the last
sacrament. The Abbot urged them to die bravely for their cause and then went up to the walls to do so
Aware that the Pasha had ordered him to be taken alive, Abbot Gabriel showed himself on an unprotected terrace and opened fire on the
Turks. At first the Turks obeyed orders and did not shoot back. But at last the big
Abbot, standing in clear view in his black flowing robes, blazing away at anything that
moved, made too inviting a target for one Turkish soldier.
A bullet caught Abbot Gabriel just above the navel and he fell dead - but not before he had given his blessing to a desperate plan hatched by an imposing rebel fighter named Konstantine
Giaboudakis. What the refugees at Arkadi feared more than death was to fall into the hands of the
Turks. So when Konstanine Giaboudakis presented his plan to the defenders, it was unanimously
By the afternoon of the second day, the Turkish heavy artillery had pulverized the outer
walls. The defenders killed hundreds more invaders, but the end was clearly near - ammunition was running low and the gate was almost
breached. As darkness fell, the Turks launched a massive final assault, pouring through the gate into the inner
courtyard, where the rebels fought them hand to hand.
Meanwhile, Giaboudakis was preparing to carry out his plan. He led more than 600 women and children into the monastery's gunpowder storage
room, where they said their prayers and waited until hundreds of Turks were swarming over the roof and ramming away at the bolted
door. As the door splintered, Giaboudakis put a spark to a gunpowder keg.
The massive explosion killed all the refugees, along with several hundred Turkish
soldiers. When the smoke cleared, 864 Cretan men, women and children lay dead, along with 1500
Turks. The Turks took 114 prisoners whom they immediately put to death. Only 3 rebels managed to escape to tell the
News of the slaughter at Arkadi Monastery, with the heavy loss of women, children and clergymen shocked the rest of Europe and won much support for the Cretan
rebels' cause. In 1898, with help from Greece and the Great Powers (England,
France, Italy and Russia), Crete won its independence and the Turks withdrew from the
island, which they had held since 1669.
Then in 1913, the long-fought-for goal was achieved and Crete was united with
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