The Apostle Paul stayed in a small natural cave, at the bay of Kali Limenes (Fair Havens) when the ship conveying him to Rome got caught in a tempest and ran aground there. The cave has been transformed into a church and has been dedicated to the Apostle of the Nations.
It is one of Crete’s sacred places connected by local tradition with the arrival of the Apostle Paul in Crete. It is situated in the southern coast of Crete, at the bay of Kali Limenes (Fair Havens). According to the “Acts of the Apostles” the ship conveying the Apostle Paul to Rome got caught in a tempest and ran aground at Kali Limenes. There is no reliable historic evidence related to Paul’s stay within a cave of the area. Yet, there is no doubt that oral tradition echoes a historically confirmed event, which established Kali Limenes as a reference point for the spread of Christianity in Crete. Local tradition records that Paul was kept captive in the cave at Kali Limenes, as well as in other caves of the area. This, however, did not prevent him from teaching the new religion to Cretans. It is said that it was inside the small cave at Kali Limenes that Christ’s teachings were heard for the first time and that the first Christians in Crete were baptized there. Besides, the wider area and, more precisely, its capital, Gortyn, became the earliest center of Christianity. At some unspecified time the cave was transformed into a small church and was inhabited by monks and hermits. Today a great number of icons are hanging on its walls. According to information by travelers who visited Crete during the Turkish Occupation, a church had been erected next to the cave. However, virtually nothing is known about it because it was destroyed and reconstructed. A modern three-aisled church is now standing on its site, built circa 1970.
The cave has not yet been registered as a monument by the Greek authorities. Since it functions as a church, it is subject to the Metropolis of Gortyn and Arcadia and is managed by the local parish of Mires, the see of the metropolis.
The visit of the Apostle Paul to Crete is of particular historical and religious importance. Many coastal areas of southern Crete were associated with the Apostle of the Nations by the local tradition and attractive narratives were created which strengthened the religious morale of the inhabitants during harsh times. The cave of Kali Limenes is among the characteristic spots of St Paul’s itinerary and is deeply revered by the Cretans. Contemporary painters have represented this visit in Byzantine painting.Tradition records a great number of narratives related to either the visit of the Apostle or to other incidents which functioned instructionally and contributed to the construction of the Cretans’ orthodox identity. In fact, the southern coastal regions and the Asteroussia Mountains are interspersed with religious memories, reminding of the tremendous significance of the place through the ages. Indicative reference could be made to two monasteries of the Middle Ages, situated a few kilometers away from the cave, one to the east and the other to the west. In older times, especially when religious conflicts prevailed on the island, the local population laid particular symbolic emphasis on the Apostle Paul’s visit. Today the site retains its sacredness and the cavernous church is a place of pilgrimage.
During the first half of the 20th century, when there was no motor road leading to the place visited by the Apostle Paul, large crowds of pilgrims swarmed there after having walked for many hours. Yet, the development of the pilgrimage has not met the original expectations. This may be attributed to the limited tourist development of the region. Today there are all the favourable conditions for the attraction of more visitors. The local ecclesiastic authorities (Metropolis of Gortyn and Arcadia) have included the sacred cave in their priorities. Moreover, many organizations occupied with the study of the Apostle Paul’s action have a keen interest in the places visited by the Saint. Very close to the sacred cave there are many more caves, some of which have been transformed into cavernous churches. The same has happened with the tholos tombs of the area, which look like caves cut into the rock. They all make a complete set of monuments; a religious – pilgrimage visit can be organized combining the sacredness of the place with the natural beauty. The region to the west of the cave is uninhabitable and the nearby gorges preserve signs from hermits’ lives, including the caves where they dwelled.