Defiant sacrifice of Arkadi’s Cretan heroes resonates through history

The 157th anniversary of the Massacre at Arkadi Monastery, known as the ‘Holocaust of Arkadi’ among Cretans, was commemorated by the Pancretan Union on Saturday through wreath laying ceremonies, speeches, music and folkloric dances.

November 1866 remains a milestone in Cretan history. The historic Arkadi Monastery in central Crete marks one of the bloodiest events in modern Greek history. Nearly 700 women, and children sought refuge within its walls while being besieged by 15,000 Ottoman Turkish soldiers. Defended by only 259 armed Cretan revolutionaries and 45 monks, the monastery housed around 700 women and children from neighbouring villages seeking shelter from the advancing Turks.

Photo: Con Deves

All Cretan rebels perished, leaving the women and children barricaded in the monastery’s storage room, initially a food repository converted into storage for gunpowder and explosives during the revolt. Surrounded by Turkish soldiers, a rebel named Konstantinos Giaboudakis proposed a radical course of action—to ignite the gunpowder and perish together, to which all the women, with their children, agreed.

Photo: Con Deves

The detonation of the storage room, packed with gunpowder, resulted in the deaths of all the 700 women and children and 1,500 Ottoman soldiers. The act of defiance by the villagers, driven by their aspiration to die as free Greeks and the cruelty of the Turks, resonated globally, drawing attention to the Cretan struggle for independence.

Photo: Con Deves

Inspired by the Cretans’ sacrifice, Philhellenic volunteers from Serbia, Hungary, Italy, and France arrived in Crete. Gustave Glouren, a Frenchman, joined the rebel army, assembling a cohort of foreign fighters encompassing French, English, American, Italian, and Hungarian volunteers. Glouren also published ‘The Question of the Orient and the Cretan Renaissance,’ advocated among French politicians, and organised conferences in France and Athens.

Photo: Con Deves

Italian General Giuseppe Garibaldi, who unified Italy, commended the Cretans and their quest for independence through written letters.

Garibaldians actively participated in Cretan conflicts against the Ottomans. The anniversary of the Pancretan Union was a poignant reminder that in the face of adversity, the fusion of strength and courage triumphs over fear, underscoring the love for freedom.

All photos of the event by Con Deves.

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