Agios Thomas is a village with unique character in the prefecture of Heraklion and is part of the Municipality of Gortyn. It is situated at an altitude of 530m in an advantageous site offering a panoramic view to the scenically beautiful landscape. The geological composition of the place with its steep, high rocks help shape the specificity of the place. Located in the geographical center of Crete, 28 km from Heraklion, it is an ideal choice for the visitor who wants to explore the island and experience its appeal.
The name Agios Thomas is derived from the old three-aisled church of the basilica type with a cylindrical dome which was built over an ancient temple located in the center of the village. The two aisles date back to the 10th century while the third one and the vestibule (pronaos) in the 14th century. Inside the temple there are remains of frescoes that testify to the richness and importance of the area.
The visitor can tour the 49 churches and chapels, the monolithic Roman tombs and the Minoan stone-carved winepresses. They can also wander the picturesque alleys of the village, climb to the top of the rock and enjoy the view from Kavallaris site. Finally, relax in the cafeterias of the village square and experience the unpretentious Cretan hospitality.
From the town square one can take a path leading to a site called Gria Mantra and see the monolithic Roman tombs, which are preserved in excellent condition. A few minutes of hiking are enough to walkthrough and admire the tall rocks with the six carved graves. A landslide that took place in the late 19th century, resulted in a rock being tilted, causing the three tombs to take a peculiar slanting.
A little outside the village to the east, there is the carved temple chapel of St. Iosaf of India. It is a carved rock 3.5m in height. It belongs to the rare category of monolithic temples and is dedicated to an unknown saint of India. According to tradition, Ioasaf was the son of the King of India who, despite his father’s objections, embraced Christianity and lived as a monk in the desert. His worship came to the village either by Constantinopolitan refugees, or because St. Thomas preached in India, hence the parallel worship of Saint Ioasaf. Both the monument and the worship of the saint had been buried in the soil for many years and only after relevant information was discovered on Mount Athos was it unearthed, restored and celebrated on August 26th.
In the site Ardahtia, there are many carved caves and ancient tombs. In such a cave between Agios Thomas and the village of Ardachtia, there is the temple of Kera Spiliotissa, where there was a theater and an ancient altar. Outside the cave there is an ancient inscription dedicated to the goddess Dimitra and her daughter Persephone dating back to the 1st century AD. This inscription indicates that the area was once a place of worship of deities of the Lower World. Tradition and legends report that the hole of Hedes can be found in Spiliotissa – although covered now. It was supposedly the entrance to the Lower World and in old times, people would toss tributes and various objects cherished by the dead in the hole.
In the depths of the valley, in an idyllic site called Mouzouras, there is the chapel of Panagia Kardiotissa, where the icon of Holy Mother (Panagia) was found in 1912. The Byzantine church of Panagia Kardiotissa was built in the 14th century on top of the ruins of an ancient sanctuary. Tradition tells us of a miracle by Our Lady. According to the inscription, in 1914 an Ottoman Turk had a daughter who was paralyzed from birth. The Turk had heard of the miracles attributed to Kardiotissa and offered her gifts, including two flasks of oil and two flasks of honey. His daughter miraculously healed and the Turk glorified the Virgin Mary. From 1935 to 1962 the chapel functioned as a women’s monastery, while during the German occupation the guest house hosted residents from the wider region. The monastery was later abandoned but in 1992 works on its renovation began.
Today the visitor can rest beneath the 600 year old large oak tree and enjoy the colors and sounds of nature. Next to Panagia Kardiotissa there is an old stone bridge and a watermill. If one follows the path, they will come across to two of the many ancient stone-carved winepresses that exist in the area and bear witness to the uninterrupted cultivation of grapevines developed there since as early as the Minoan era.