HEROES & HEROIN OF TOPLOU MONASTERY

  

The Monastery stands isolated and to some extent in the middle of nowhere with its architecture resembling a fort. It is situated at the eastern part of Sitia in eastern Crete. Built high on a rugged plateau in the mid 15th century, at a time when pirates and bandits of all nationalities were ravaging Crete. The monastery was devastated during the earthquake of 1612 and it was rebuilt by the Venetians, but it was destroyed again by the Turkish occupation of Crete. It has withstood many attacks and occupation by invading forces in its history. This is of course partly due to its strategic position, built by the monks it has a thick and strong 10 metre high wall around the complex. 

  
The wall has small windows like arrow-holes, a heavy castle gate, and murder holes for pouring out boiling oil onto the heads of attackers. There is also a cannon on the rampart of the door. The Turkish word for a cannon is 'top', hence the name of the monastery 'Moni Toplou' or 'Monastery with a Gun'.

  

During World War ll the monastery became of great importance to the Resistance, because it had a wireless radio at its disposal, the monastery maintained this radio for the entire period. When the Germans found out about it they unfortunately took the abbot Gennadios Silignakis and two other monks, Evmenios Stamatakis and Kallinikos Papathanasakis prisoners. Although they tortured them all only Stamatakis died in prison of the injuries he sustained. The other two were executed in Ayia Jail at Hania, after the bishop of the area had unsuccessfully tried to have them reprieved.

  

Near the monastery there is a small cave which functioned as a shelter for the resistance fighter's. There is a steep dirt road leading to the cave about 500 metres away from the monastery towards Sitia.

 

The contribution of the clergy to the cause for freedom during the Battle of Crete and the German occupation was truly significant, when all the monasteries functioned as sanctuaries and hide-outs, even as headquarters for allies and Cretans alike. The monastery of Arkadi also had a leading role thanks to the spirited actions of monk Gabriel Klados and Abbot-Archimandrite Dionysios Psaroudakis.
Other monasteries did not fall short of sacrifices and paid their own share in blood. Numerous priests and abbots exhibited astonishing courage, dignity and in defiance of death.
 

Cretan women responded readily and passionately to the national call to arms. Women were quick to catch up and adjusted fast to their new roles. On many occasions they took up arms and fought side by side with their husbands and sons. Others, risked their lives, provided shelter to the wounded British, New Zealand, Australian and Greek guerrillas wanted by the German army. They supplied hot cooked and nourishing food to the guerrillas and troops hiding out in caves and ruined buildings. They nursed the wounded and gave encouraging words helping them to continue in those desperate times.
 

Terpsichori Chryssoulaki-Vlachou was one such young woman. She was born in Sitia and could operate the wireless hidden in the monastery of pl during the occupation. Along with the monks she was also arrested and sentenced to death by the Germans. She was taken to Ayia Jail and was executed in June 1944. Although, before her execution she displayed tremendous courage, writing on her cell wall - 

   

 I am 8 years old and sentenced to death. The firing squad will be here in a minute. 
Long live Greece! Long live Crete!

  

The entire population of Crete played a small role, in helping the Resistance. Even children running 'errands' for supplies for the allies and the guerrillas, or acted as messengers (runners). Even the shepherds had their own codes which they used by whistling to warn of danger. Perhaps the bravest of all were those who did not succumb to pressure or torture by the enemy. Others were put to hard labour but tried not to work too quickly hence making life difficult for the enemy forces. Others printed and circulated information which boosted the moral of the people and resistance groups around the island.

  

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