Crete #6 Honoring the Holy Myrtle Tree

The glass jar of Cretan honey caught my eye that first morning and added a lovely amber color to the altar to honor the ancestors. One of our group dropped locally grown almonds into the honey.

My first morning on Crete, I went out before 8:00 a.m. in search of an offering for the altars we would prepare on later days. I chose this Cretan honey, in part, because it comes in this small shapely glass jar. Size was important–one more thing to add to my day pack. Cretan honey safely stowed, I mingled with the other women and tried to match names and faces to the biographies we had shared before the trip. We boarded our “luxury liner” bus. With expansive windows all around me, I watched as the capitol city, Heraklion, transitioned into curving mountain roads.(For details of that early morning search for libations, see my blog Crete, Part 2 posted on 2/21/18.) I could tell this early October day was going to be hot. I would be glad for the air conditioning on the bus later that day.

Each day we sang this morning blessing in the bus:

As this day dawns in beauty,
we pledge ourselves to repair the web.

Sometimes Karolina (Carol’s Greek name) would give us background about where we were heading to supplement the handout we received earlier. The bus was well equipped with a microphone and even a drop-down, overhead map so everyone could hear Karolina and see the locations of our day’s stops.

Paliani Monastery is one of the oldest monasteries in Crete. Within the walls is a large sprawling myrtle tree considered sacred (Holy Myrtle), and believed to be endowed with powerful healing properties. That day Karloina wanted us to discover the matrifocal subtext of Christianity at the Paliani Convent with its 1,000 year old sacred myrtle tree. Many visitors from around the world and over centuries have brought healing requests to this ancient sacred tree. The convent is at least 1,000 years old. Paliani has been destroyed several times by conquering invaders. And every time rebuilt, most recently in the late 1800s.

One popular Cretan travel guide explained, “The cult of Holy Myrtle is actually a survival of ancient religious habits and more specifically the worship of sacred trees in the Minoan religion.” More information from a website called Orthodox Crete: “This is one of the oldest convents on Crete, situated south of Venerato village and built on top of the ruins of an ancient temple, as confirmed by the capitals located in the courtyard of the convent.”

My carefully chosen sun hat had been packed flat for travel, but I wore it as we climbed the winding entrance to the convent that had been a sacred site for the ancient Cretan people who honored the Goddess in all her aspects.

Hiking up the hillside


Approaching the sacred 1,000 year old myrtle tree.

Lower Level

The Holy Myrtle tree can be approached on two levels. As the tree grew the convent courtyard expanded around the trunk. We walked with a few other visitors around the magnificent tree and silently took in our surroundings. A certain hush pervaded the space. The convent courtyard was carefully tended and bloomed with flowers on this hot October day.

Upper Level

embedded in limbs

Karolina gathered us around the Holy Myrtle on the upper level to consider all we had seen and felt in this special spot. Next we would visit with one of the nuns who has live here for over fifty years. I’ll have more photos and talk about our time with this amazing woman.

Pure mountain spring water!


Later in the day we would drive into the mountains to the town of Zaros known for its pure mountain spring water….

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2 Responses to Crete #6 Honoring the Holy Myrtle Tree

  1. Lila Rostenberg says:

    What a wonderful old tree! So much has happened around it over the years!
    I love the knarled trunks and branches!

  2. Paula says:

    The last photo of the Holy Myrtle tree shows Lauren on the upper level staring down towards the lower level. Karolina encouraged each of us to gather one or two of the 6-8″twigs that had fallen on the stone terrace from that magnificent tree. We then wrapped a narrow colored ribbon around the twig to use later in our praise ritual. My own twig from the Holy Myrtle is wrapped in pale blue and lives with other special items on a table near my bed.

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