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Friday, 24 August 2012

Catholic (Καθολικός)

When I said yesterday that I hadn't been to the Venetian port lately, I was telling a little white lie. Just three days before that refreshing coffee and ice cream, I was there on my own, representing my household at the Roman Catholic funeral of my next-door neighbour. Michael Angelo, a Sicilian college professor who lived for many years in Rome, came with his wife fifteen years ago to live in Hania, where his daughter lived with her Greek husband. In your old age, as a Southern Mediterranean, you generally don't want to have to rely on unreliable third parties or the equally unreliable state to look after you at a time when you can't look after yourself. You turn to your family, and you go where they go; as the Greeks say: όπου γης και πατρίς (home is wherever you find yourself). Michael Angelo died in his mid-80s, the same age as my late uncle whose funeral I helped to prepare; both Greeks and Italians score highly in longevity rates. 


 The Catholic church of Hania is located behind the town's Archaeological Museum, where the Folklore Museum is also housed. A Capuchin monastery is affiliated to the church, and monks are seen going about their business in their gowns. You rarely see them on the tourist road, only if you peek down the alleyway. You would only know they're there if you wander into this private courtyard. It feels a bit like Diagon Alley - quite a different world there compared to the main road.

Michael Angelo's funeral was held at the Roman Catholic church of Hania, located close to the Venetian port behind the town's archaeological museum. The Roman Catholic church has always held some form of presence in Hania since Venetian times, but once the Venetians were ousted by the invading Ottomans, the church stopped operating in Crete, and only began functioning again in relatively recent times: the Catholic Diocese of Crete was once again established in 1874 and the church in Hania was constructed in 1879. The service was held in Greek, and the whole neighbourhood attended. In fact, of the 60 or so people who filled up the small church, more than 50 were Greek Orthodox. Michael Angelo didn't have any relatives in Hania apart form his immediate family through his daughter and her children, but he and his wife (Susanna, a beautiful slim energetic woman) had plenty of friends in our picturesque rural Cretan village.

 
 Graves and tombstones at the Fragkiko cemetery of Hania: Gerald (below) obviously wanted to be buried in Crete.

Although Greece is predominantly Christian Orthodox in faith, the many immigrants of Greece are not, and there has always been a need for funeral rites and burial places of other denominations*. Catholics in Hania are buried in a small inner-city cemetery known locally as the Frangiko cemetery (from the Franks, the French). The cemetery has only a few graves, which are opened in turn for the burial of the most recent death. The graves seem to date back to the mid-1860s; not all describe the oldest occupant, as the tombstone has been partly destroyed over time (or by vandals).

A 22-year-old sailor's memorial: 1844-1866 - this is possibly the first burial of a Catholic in the Fragkiko cemetery, since the chapel (below) in the cemetery was established in 1866. The plaque lies right in front of the white door, to the left. 
 


Family graves are very common in rural Greece; in towns, this is difficult to achieve due to lack of space. The main Greek cemetery in Hania (Agios Loukas) has an ossuary to keep the bones of the dead in so that the graves (which are in fact too few for the population of the town) can be re-used. I came across one such grave in the Fragkiko cemetery, which seemed to belong to a family of Cretan Catholics. It was one of the most well tended graves there; according to the dates of birth and death, the occupants seemed to have died quite young. Another very impressive and well-tended grave was that of what seemed like a German couple who died in the 20th century before WW2.  

Michael Angelo's wife does not intend to return to Italy. She was relieved to have found a place in Hania for her husband's final resting place. That way, she can visit the grave and tend it in a similar way to what the Greeks do. The cemetery is used by all Catholics of any nationality; I noticed a number of Polish names with recent burials on some of the tombstones, evidence of our well-established minority communities.

*To date, only Christian Orthodox and Catholic cemeteries exist in Hania, although there is a significant Moslem population here too, who have to travel to Northern Greece (Komotini) if they want to be buried according to Islamic traditions, but a Moslem cemetery is currently being built in Iraklio. For a town that was conquered and ruled by Moslems for four centuries, it seems strange that a cemetery did not remain for them too, as it did for the Catholics. If I'm correct, Ottoman Moslems used to be buried in the area of Nea Hora, which was outside the town limits at the time.  

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