A brief history of the former Catholic Churches in Rhodes
In 1912, the Italians freed Rhodes from theTurkish domination which had lasted centuries. During the first period, they re-organised the island building new structures, like hospitals, schools and the court house. At the same time, the Franciscan friars started building churches, orphanages and schools.
With Mons. GianMaria Castellani, first Bishop of Rhodes, the building of the new Cathedral of St. John in Mandraki was started. It was the first Cathedral in the Dodecanese. At the same time the Bishop’s palace was built next to the basilica. The Franciscans served both the church and the Bishop.
Thank to the religious and civil development, new parish churches were built, like the one of Our Lady of Acandia, a small chapel by the sea, not far from the cathedral, giving spiritual support to the children living in the new orphanage.
In 1935 the Chapel of the Sacred Heart was built for the Franciscan Nuns of Gemona who came first to Rhodes in 1875. They served in shelters and hospitals and took care of the orphans. Between 1960-’70, the nuns went back to Italy and the Christian Brothers of the schools of St. John the Baptist de la Salle took over till the 1990s.
In Rhodes, at the centre of the city, you can still visit what remains of the chapel of the regional hospital, built by the Italian missionary association and managed by the Franciscan nuns of the Immaculate Heart of Holy Mary. The chapel is currently in a very run down condition. Two other chapels were built respectively in the boys’ and the girls’ schools during the Italian period by the Italian missionary association and run, the former by the Friars and the latter by the nuns. During this period, fields were drained and agricultural villages were built with schools and churches and chapels for celebrations. The Church of Our Lady of the Stars, interestingly, is used today as an Orthodox Church on a Greek military base.
Another important agricultural village was "Campo Chiaro", at the centre of the island, nowadays known as Eleousa. Walking through a thick forest, you suddenly arrive in this small village, with the Church of the Mater Dolorosa which is today the Greek Orthodox church. At its sides, you can still see the ruins of the sanatorium and the ruins of the Italian school where the Franciscan nuns used to work. Deep in the island, on the hill known as Profitis Elias (Prophet Elijah) you can still find St. George’s chapel, today sadly in ruins.
In Kolimbia, halkf way down the southern coast, a church to St. Benedict was built next to a nursing home served by the Franciscan nuns. An aqueduct was also built close to the church which at the time was a fundamental source to water the lands.
In the South of the island you can visit another rural village built around St. Mark’s Church. An elementary school managed by Franciscan nuns was here. The church is now neglected and next to it, for a while, there was a prison.