Friends Jim and Mo accompanied Alan and me to Milatos Caves as I wanted to explore them again in preparation for a key scene in my draft second novel, Rodanthe’s Gift.
Always dark and eerie, exploring the catacomb caves brings a chill to the back of my neck as I try to imagine the terror of circa 2000 besieged Christians praying to avoid angry Turks.
In contrast, our only worry was to avoid cracking our heads’ on the low cavern roof as we crept over uneven ground lit by a single torch beam. On reaching a chamber with room to stand I switched off the torch and lit a single candle in an attempt to understand what it might have been like if any of the refugees had managed to take a candle into the caves. Our immediate reaction was surprise at what a wide pool of warm light one candle made; it was such an improvement on a single torch beam. Right beside us was a stumpy 50 cm stalagmite with a small indentation that made an excellent candle stand. The flame didn’t gutter at all, evidence that no draught reached our cell in the honeycombed network of caves separated by rock ledges and smooth stalagmites. We took time to speculate on how those frightened people may have felt, and took note of what we could hear before imagining what it may have sounded like when crammed full of fear and pain.
It wasn’t long before another three torch beams cut through the dark, evidence of the next visitors, so I used our candle to light our way back to a small church built into the large chamber that has an opening onto the hillside.
This church, dedicated to Saint Thomas, has a glass casket of bones as a macabre reminder of the cave’s history. To learn more about these caves visit http://www.cretanbeaches.com/Caves/Lassithi-Caves/milatos-cave/
Don’t worry if you wish to visit the caves but don’t have a torch among your holiday luggage… Local English residents Alan and Mary sit outside of the caves most mornings to explain the history to visitors, and they will happily loan you a torch to light your way.
I’d love to hear from you if you know why the church inside the cave is dedicated to Saint Thomas. Meanwhile, I’ll carry on thinking how I can weave this tragic historical episode into my emerging storyline.