During the final centuries of the Venetian occupation of Crete, religious conflicts between the two churches, Orthodox and Latin, were smoothed over. The conquerors’ attitude towards the local population changed, a shift reflected in the religious tolerance demonstrated by the Venetian Authority towards the local inhabitants.
In the area of East Crete, in the mid-16th century, the seat of the Latin Bishop was transferred from Sitia, the Administrative Centre of the region, to the village of Episkopi, thereby contributing to the intellectual development of the area.
The Episcopal Seat and its environs were surrounded by a purely rural population, where the Orthodox and Latin clergy coexisted harmoniously. The inhabitants were mainly Greeks who embraced Orthodox doctrine. There were also, however, Hellenised Venetians in the area, who also followed the Orthodox Church. The followers of the Latin Church mostly consisted of mercenaries and Venetian officials based in the region and appointed by the Authority.
The Orthodox clergy, in contrast to the Catholic, was quite numerous. Legal contracts reveal a surprisingly large number of priests active in the region.
During the 16th and 17th centuries, the major Orthodox monasteries of Ierapetra and the presence of the Latin episcopal seat in the village of Episkopi, where the eminent Latin Bishop Gaspari Viviani also served, provide evidence that the area had become an important centre of learning.
In the closed rural society examined here, relationships between church and people were based on give and take. Consciously or unconsciously, within this network, faith in or fear of God imposed solidarity. In this society, where the struggle to survive was so evident, religious sentiment alleviated pain and worked powerfully on the consciences of all.